JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Nursing homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks have reported more than triple the average weekly new cases the past four weeks than they did the previous five, according to Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) data.
Those rising new case rates, which have averaged 98 the past four weeks, have in turn spurred a an even more recent spike in weekly COVID deaths. The region averaged four weekly reported deaths for the five weeks through Oct. 23 but has averaged 15 — including 30 last week — for the three weeks ending Nov. 13.
TDH updates data on long term care facility outbreaks each Friday.
Through Nov. 13, 151 of the 1,107 people reported to have contracted COVID-19 in nursing home outbreaks inside Northeast Tennessee’s seven counties had died. That was 46 percent of the total reported deaths through the same date.
When News Channel 11 first began regular reporting on how COVID-19 was impacting long-term care facilities, Northeast Tennessee nursing homes and assisted living facilities were in the midst of a difficult spell.
After 15 deaths were reported the week of Aug. 28, nursing homes’ 48 total deaths to date accounted for more than half the seven-county region’s total. Another 96 new resident cases were reported that same week as the region itself was seeing an overall drop in new cases.
New resident cases also rose sharply for the next two weeks, through Sept. 11, then tapered off to average just 28 the next five week. They had averaged 85 the previous three weeks.
Double-digit deaths were recorded four straight weeks — averaging 13 a week — through Sept. 18. Two Greeneville nursing homes, one in Church Hill, one in Bristol and one in Johnson City were hardest hit in that early wave.
The respite that followed saw an average of just 28 new cases weekly for the five-week period ending Oct. 16. And just 20 total deaths — an average of four weekly — were recorded in the five weeks through Oct. 23.
Since then, the rising new case counts that began in mid-October have caused a new wave of deaths. This time, a new round of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have borne the burden.
Those with high numbers of cases and deaths include (as of Nov. 13’s report):
- Mountain City Care and Rehabilitation Center: 85 cases, 6 deaths;
- Holston Manor, Kingsport: 70 cases, 11 deaths;
- Erwin Health Care Center: 67 cases, 11 deaths;
- NHC Johnson City: 93 cases, 21 deaths.
Centers with even more recent outbreaks that have shown weekly jumps in new cases but few recorded deaths so far include:
- Lifecare of Elizabethton: 53 cases, 1 death;
- Cambridge House, Bristol: 45 cases, 1 death;
- Cornerstone Village, Johnson City: 25 cases, 2 deaths.
New cases among staff also have surged in recent weeks. In fact, 89 new staff cases were reported the week ending Nov. 13. That represented the highest weekly total since News Channel 11 began tracking.
As of Nov. 13, a reported 1,107 residents and 713 staff had tested positive for COVID in outbreaks dating back to July.
While retrospective study of how different facilities have handled the challenge is likely to reveal that some have outperformed others, all public health experts News Channel 11 has interviewed point more to the community’s actions than the facilities themselves.
Dr. Karen Shelton directs the Mount Rogers Health District, which serves Smyth, Washington and four other counties in Southwest Virginia.
Shelton said the nature of the virus makes it extremely difficult to prevent it from getting into nursing homes once community spread reaches a certain level.
“It can come in silently, asymptomatic,” Shelton said. “Not everyone who gets it is sick.
“We do unfortunately see our worst outcomes when we get COVID into a facility, and unfortunately it is generally recognized late because it can come in and then spread and overtake more than half the facility before you even know it’s there.”