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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Haven has nearly doubled in the past 24 hours — from 16 on Tuesday to 29 on Wednesday, including an individual in a senior housing complex — and one Elm City resident has died of the disease.

Mayor Justin Elicker said at a Wednesday press conference that he and other city officials anticipate the true number of COVID-19 cases to be much higher, and that the sharp increase from Tuesday to Wednesday can be attributed both to community spread and to heightened testing capacity through Yale-New Haven Hospital, which operates a drive-through testing site at 150 Sherman Ave. The individual who died of COVID-19 was a man in his late 50s who “works at several sites and interacted with many, many people,” according to Health Director Maritza Bond. As with every COVID-19 case, the city’s health department has begun contact tracing to determine who else may have been exposed.

The latest uptick in COVID-19 cases also includes an individual living at Bella Vista, a senior housing complex with approximately 2,000 residents. The city, Elicker said, has encouraged Bella Vista residents to heed social distancing guidelines, and the senior center has stopped accepting visitors. Carabetta Management, which runs the facility, has put up posters regarding safety measures and will run webinars and robocalls to inform residents of appropriate precautions. Bond is working with Bella Vista to ensure that the individual who tested positive can safely enter the facility to self-isolate after being discharged from Yale-New Haven Hospital on Wednesday, following a one-night stay.

“Two thousand people live [at Bella Vista],” Elicker said at his daily COVID-19 virtual press conference on Wednesday. “It’s very important that Bella Vista residents take very seriously their role in reducing community spread.”

Given senior citizens’ heightened vulnerability to severe cases of COVID-19, Elicker has focused on provisions for New Haven’s seniors since his administration began addressing the novel coronavirus outbreak in earnest. Wednesday’s update from Bella Vista added urgency to this work.

On March 13, Elicker ordered all senior centers to close their doors indefinitely, along with schools and libraries. In the week leading up to this decision, Elicker and Bond began conference calls with nursing homes and senior centers to develop plans to address the spread of COVID-19 and protect some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

The same day, Gov. Ned Lamont authorized the state commissioner of public health to issue “any and all orders restricting entrance into nursing home facilities, residential care homes or chronic disease hospitals that she deems necessary to protect the health and welfare of patients, residents and staff.” That day, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recommended that nursing homes restrict all visitors effective immediately, with exceptions for compassionate care in end-of-life situations.

At a press conference on March 17, Elicker said that he and Bond visited Bella Vista that morning and “were generally happy with what [they] saw.” But he also expressed his concern that non-residents were still visiting the senior living center.

Carabetta Management has since banned nearly all visitors — only health care workers and other support staff can enter the facility. Still, Elicker said on Wednesday that site operators and city officials have experienced difficulty getting residents themselves to follow public health directives.

To ensure overall preparedness, Bond recently hosted a webinar for all multi-unit senior living facilities similar to Bella Vista, and Elicker issued a robocall to Bella Vista on Wednesday evening. In keeping with his previous recommendations and with state and national guidelines, the mayor implored New Haven residents not to visit nursing homes or senior living facilities.

As of Wednesday evening, Connecticut has nearly 900 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 29 of which are in New Haven. Officials estimate that the true number is much higher and will continue to rise. Daily updates to these statistics are available on New Haven’s COVID-19 website.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu