Long-term care deaths continue climb, new cases slow

Local Coronavirus Coverage

A solid majority of COVID-19 deaths in Northeast Tennessee are coming from nursing home outbreaks.

(WJHL) – Another 14 long-term care residents died in the past week at Northeast Tennessee nursing homes affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.

The numbers reported Friday bring to 40 the number who have died in the past three weeks, and to 73 the total dead since mid-July. That represents 60 percent of total COVID deaths in Northeast Tennessee, and 73 percent of the total the past three weeks.

The Tennessee Department of Health reports weekly on long-term care facilities that have case clusters of more than one resident or staff member. Friday’s report included four new facilities, though between them they only have seven resident and 13 staff cases so far.

The new sites mean 26 facilities are currently in outbreaks, and a total of 579 residents and 400 staff have now been affected.

While the impact is smaller in Southwest Virginia, two nursing homes reported large increases in cases over the past week. Valley Health Center in Chilhowie now has 41 cases and Bristol Rehab and Memory Care has 56.

Those numbers are up from 10 and 25, respectively, a week ago. Both have had deaths, but because the total for each is fewer than five, Virginia denotes that with an asterisk.

Virginia only reports total cases, combining staff and residents, and deaths. Tennessee reports resident cases, resident deaths, resident recoveries and staff cases.

Dr. Karen Shelton is director of the Mount Rogers Health District. Her agency’s representatives have been visiting area long-term care facilities for months helping them confront the challenges of COVID-19.

She said those places have generally done an admirable job limiting visitation, practicing infection prevention and taking other measures to try and keep COVID at bay.

“You can do all the things to try to keep it out of your facility but when there become so many cases in the community, the health care employees are affected also just being in the community.”

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.”

She realizes it’s difficult to connect the dots between personal decisions and the possibility of someone in a nursing home dying of COVID, but she hopes people will.

“it’s really hard for people to fathom where that thread goes and how many people are affected by a community with widespread transmission, and that’s where we are right now, especially in Washington County and Smyth County,” Shelton said.

“We want everyone to live their life. We want them to live it smartly, to think about the places they go and the number of people you have impacts on.”

Northeast Tennessee sees lowest number of new cases in three weeks

After two straight weeks of 90-plus new cases in long-term care facilities, Northeast Tennessee had another 61 new cases this past week.

The biggest increases were at Lifecare in Greeneville, up 25 to 71, and Hermitage in Elizabethton with 13 new cases.

The number of staff testing positive rose 48, to 400.

The mortality rate (deaths as a percentage of deaths plus recoveries) decreased significantly from previous weeks, when it had averaged around 18 percent.

With 133 recoveries and 14 deaths last week, that rate is now at 14.5 percent — as 429 people have recovered and 73 have died.

The lower number of new cases and high number of recoveries also brought the total number of residents who are still active cases down from 192 last week to just 77 Friday.

The highest number of active cases are at Lifecare of Greeneville (27), Lakebridge (Johnson City) and The Waters of Johnson City (14 each) and Signature (Greeneville) with 10.

A full 90 percent of Signature’s residents have contracted COVID — 97 people — and 15 have died already including four in the last week. That is the third-highest total of dead among any of the 200-plus facilities reporting outbreaks since July.

The facilities reporting cases for the first time Friday include Dominion Senior Living, a Johnson City assisted living center, NHC and The Wexford House nursing homes in Kingsport, and Agape nursing home in Johnson City.

The Wexford House and Dominion reported resident and staff cases while Agape and NHC have reported only staff cases so far.

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