Thomson-Hood Veterans Center has experienced a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 that is affecting both veterans and staff. A total of 86 veterans have become infected.

Since October, at least 24 veterans have died from COVID-19 in Kentucky’s Thomson-Hood Veterans Center outside of Lexington, Governor Andy Beshear announced on Friday. Forty-eight have recovered. Five are in the hospital and another nine are being treated within the center. Sixty-three staff members have tested positive for the virus; 11 are still active with COVID-19.

“This is the toughest spot we’ve been in thus far,” Governor Beshear said of the outbreak in an interview with New York Times.

“You must do your part and folks, this is now to the point where you need to be wearing your mask simply to protect yourself. It will also help others around you, but if you are not wearing a mask, you are putting yourself at personal risk of this virus,” he added.

Assisted living and nursing homes have been ravaged by the disease: The combination of an elderly population with many pre-existing medical conditions, along with small, cramped living quarters makes them potential hotbeds of the disease.

In a post on Facebook, the Thompson Hood Center said, “We are still battling. Keep praying for our incredible, warrior staff and our precious veterans. We are heartbroken over our losses. Please wear your masks and make smart, safe choices as you go about your daily lives. What we do out in the community matters.”

Things had been stable for months at the Kentucky veterans center. Its administration had been proactive, conducting daily tests for both veterans and staff since March. It would also conduct immediate testing for anyone who was showing symptoms.

To mask or not to mask, that is the question

Read Next: To mask or not to mask, that is the question

But since the beginning of fall, there has been an explosion of COVID-19 across the country. And with a flurry of new cases in Kentucky, once the virus made its way into the center, it spread quickly and out of control.

“It started with three veterans and seven staff members, which quickly turned into a larger outbreak,” the governor said earlier this week. “The rate of positive tests now appears to have peaked and is declining,” he specified.

“By now, if you don’t think you’ve known someone, who at least is close to someone who has been lost to [COVID], you’re not listening,” the governor added during his news conference. “Please, open your ears, open your eyes, and open your heart and you will feel the grief and difficulty that’s out there and that should compel us all to do the right thing.”

“The more people wear masks, the fewer seniors and fewer veterans die,” he said. “With all the sacrifice they made, wearing a mask for them seems like a very small sacrifice.”

There have been many outbreaks at veterans’ homes throughout the United States. The promise of an effective vaccine brings some hope, but with numbers surging nationwide, many are gravely concerned. 

In Wisconsin, the King Veterans Home has had nine veterans die from COVID-19 in just the past six days. A total of 34 veterans have died at the center from COVID since the pandemic began. 

At the Illinois Veterans Home at La Salle, 79 residents became infected with the coronavirus and 13 died. 

And earlier this year, what were described as “horrific conditions” at the Soldiers’ Home at Holyoke, Massachusetts led to the deaths of 76 veterans. 

In that case, the administrators made the tragic decision to pack 42 veterans — some positive for COVID-19 and others not showing any symptoms — into a single unit that could accommodate only 25.

The outbreak at Holyoke was one of the deadliest at a long-term care facility in the nation. Holyoke home’s former superintendent and chief medical officer are currently facing criminal neglect charges.