Eleven veterans have died amid an outbreak of coronavirus at a facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Mayor Alex Morse said Tuesday.
The veterans, residents of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, died between Wednesday and Monday, Morse said. Five of them tested positive for COVID-19 and the tests for five others were pending, with one victim's information unavailable.
Flags flew at half-staff in the city Tuesday to honor the veterans as well as those veterans fighting the disease, Morse said in a news conference.
"The veterans and all the people at the soldiers' home, these are people who gave their all, risked their lives to protect all of us, and they deserved better, frankly," he said.
In total, 11 veteran residents and five staff members tested positive for the disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to NBC affiliate WWLP. Morse said all staff and residents of the facility had been tested by state authorities.
Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Dan Tsai said in a press release Monday that Bennett Walsh, superintendent of the facility, had been placed on paid administrative leave effective immediately.
Val Liptak, CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, has taken over the administration at the veterans' facility, Tsai announced.
Morse slammed Walsh for what he described as a "clear lack of urgency," accusing him of failing to notify local and state officials in a timely manner.
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The mayor said he first heard Friday of a "case that turned into several cases" at the facility. The next day, his administration received an anonymous tip about the "gravity of the situation" and contacted the facility. He said he did not hear back that day.
Morse said contacted Walsh Sunday and was "shocked" to learn there had been eight veteran deaths between Wednesday and Sunday "without any public notification, without any notification to my office" or to state officials.
State officials, once alerted by Morse, sent a team of health officials to assess the situation and deployed the National Guard to assist in the response.
According to Mass.gov, the Soldiers' Home is described as a "247-bed long term nursing care facility with 24-hour licensed nursing staff."