Over quarter of COVID cases linked to congregate living settings in Stanly

Of the roughly 770 confirmed coronavirus cases that have occurred in Stanly County since the pandemic began in mid-March, more than a quarter have come from people living or working in congregate living facilities.

According to information from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, which keeps a list of ongoing outbreaks at correctional facilities, nursing homes and residential care facilities, along with reporting from the Stanly News & Press, there have been nine outbreaks in these settings, which have accounted for at least 212 cases and six deaths. Outbreaks are defined by the state as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is known to be particularly lethal to adults in their 60s and older who have underlying health conditions. And it can spread more easily through congregate facilities, like prisons and nursing homes, where many people live in a confined environment and workers move from room to room.

The largest outbreak has come from the Albemarle Correctional Institution, where 103 inmates have tested positive for the virus. Last week, an inmate in his 50s with underlying health conditions was the first from the facility to die from coronavirus-complications. An additional 29 staff members have also tested positive, though 25 of them have presumably recovered and are back at work, said John Bull, spokesman for the state’s Department of Public Safety. So far, 774 inmates have been tested.

Four inmates at the prison, most of them with underlying health conditions, recently reached out to The SNAP to discuss how they feared for their lives and worried about contracting the virus. A sister of one of the inmates confirmed that he actually contracted the virus.

The biggest outbreak outside of ACI has occurred at Woodhaven Court in Albemarle, where 23 staff members and 18 residents have tested positive and two residents have died.

“We’ve kept COVID-19 at bay for five months, but it is here,” Pat Bates, executive director for Woodhaven Court, said. “This impacts us deeply on a personal and professional level, as we feel a responsibility for the safety and care of our staff and residents.”

The statement said that Woodhaven tested its own residents and staff on July 3 and then on July 14, out of an abundance of caution, the health department retested everyone who previously received a negative test result. The current case totals do not reflect the second tests, since those results are pending.

All infected Woodhaven residents are being treated in isolation by health professionals, and remain asymptomatic at this time, according to the statement, and staff members have followed CDC guidelines by self-quarantining and are being treated by their primary healthcare providers.

Another large outbreak occurred at Trinity Place in Albemarle, where six residents and six staff have tested positive.

“Trinity Place has been bracing for the possibility of a COVID outbreak months now,” said Trinity Place Administrator Stephanie Herrin-Huneycutt in a statement to the SNAP. “As the number of positive cases increases in the general population, outbreaks in nursing homes like Trinity Place may happen, unfortunately, in spite of our best efforts.”

Herrin-Huneycutt added: “Trinity Place teammates follow strict infection control guidelines, are wearing the right personal protective equipment, and are doing everything we know to do to hold the line against COVID. I cannot say enough about the heroes who are working under these difficult circumstances.”

The other facilities that have experienced outbreaks include Bethany Woods (seven cases), Spring Arbor (six cases and three deaths), Stanly Manor (four cases), Stanly County Detention Center (four cases) and Forrest Oakes Healthcare Center (two cases).

The SNAP also learned that outbreaks occurred at two Monarch group homes in the county, but a spokesperson would not reveal how many people had tested positive and DHHS has no information about the outbreaks.

Other nearby counties have also experienced large outbreaks in congregate living facilities, especially nursing homes and residential care facilities. The largest nursing home outbreak in the state has occurred in Rowan County, with The Citadel Salisbury accounting for at least 168 confirmed cases and 21 deaths. Another big outbreak occurred in Cabarrus County, with Five Oaks Rehabilitation accounting for at least 74 cases and five deaths.

Statewide, nursing homes, residential care facilities and correctional facilities have accounted for 9,212 cases and 900 deaths, according to DHHS data. The death count accounts for 53 percent of the state’s total death toll.

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced in late June that DHHS would partner with the CVS Health company Omnicare to make facility-wide testing available to residents and staff in all North Carolina skilled nursing facilities. Testing will begin in July and continue through August.

“We are using every tool we have to respond to COVID-19,” Cohen said. “Building on North Carolina’s early and aggressive actions to protect residents who live in long-term care settings, DHHS will pay for proactive testing of staff and residents in all nursing homes to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

CVS Health will bill insurance as possible, and NCDHHS will cover any additional costs for testing, according to a press release about the partnership. Facilities should continue to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for repeat testing and work with community and private vendors to support ongoing testing needs.

Ted Goins, president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolinas, which runs Trinity Place, had a simple message for people to help curb the spread of the virus: “Please, please, practice the three Ws: wear your mask, wait six feet apart, and wash your hands.”