Buncombe reports COVID-19 outbreaks in two long-term care facilities

Hallway bingo at Aston Park Health Care Center
GAMES NO MORE: In April, staff at Aston Park Health Care Center changed things up during the facility's popular bingo games. Instead of gathering in common areas, residents sat in the doorways of their rooms to minimize infection risk. Despite those and other precautions, the long-term care facility now has an active outbreak of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Aston Park Health Care Center

Buncombe County reported active outbreaks of COVID-19 at Aston Park Health Care Center and Deerfield Retirement Episcopal Skilled Nursing Home, both long-term care facilities located within county limits. An outbreak is defined by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as two or more lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in staff or residents.

County health officials are actively conducting contact tracing and coordinating with the facilities to review infection control measures, said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s interim health director, at a May 14 press conference. The health department has directed the facilities to test all residents and staff for COVID-19, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

Testing will be repeated three days after the initial test, and then on a weekly basis, until all cases are identified. Mullendore warned that state guidance for long-term care facilities is still under review and the county’s recommendations are subject to change.

Mullendore said a “strike team” of public health nurses and emergency services personnel will be formed to visit every congregate care facility in Buncombe County. The team will provide information on obtaining personal protective equipment, give technical testing assistance and review plans for isolation and quarantine of suspected cases.

“We believe that there will be more outbreaks in congregate care settings in our county, and our Buncombe County Emergency Operations Center anticipated outbreaks in these long-term care facilities many months ago, at the start of the pandemic,” Mullendore said.

Buncombe officials did not share the specific number of cases reported for each outbreak. The state health department’s next update to the case count for congregate living facilities is expected at 4 p.m. Friday, May 15.

State data promising as Phase 1 continues

Early metrics show North Carolina is in the “strongest position possible” to consider transitioning into Phase 2 of the Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-phase reopening plan, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, during a May 14 press conference. State health officials will look at trends in lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, COVID-like syndromic cases, the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations to determine if the state will move into the next phase on Friday, May 22.

As of May 14, three of these four metrics are consistently stable or trending downward, Cohen explained. The trajectory of lab-confirmed cases, however, is still trending upward, partly as a result of increased testing.

Other factors include the state’s capacity for testing and contact tracing — which Cohen said had increased since the plan was first announced— and the strength of the supply chain for obtaining masks, gloves and other essential pieces of PPE.

Cohen emphasized that, while the trends may look promising now, their stability depends on residents continuing to wear face coverings, standing 6 feet apart in public settings and staying home as much as possible. Decisions about the move to Phase 2 will be made next week.

In other news:

  • Individuals experiencing homelessness are now sheltering at a Red Roof Inn in West Asheville. The move, coordinated by the city of Asheville, Buncombe County, Homeward Bound and other community partners, expands shelter capacity to 60 individuals, up from a previous limit of 50 in the city’s previous emergency shelter at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville.
  • The N.C. General Assembly will reconvene on Monday, May 18. Each chamber will maintain separate procedural rules regarding legislative sessions, committee meetings and voting practices, according to a press release from the office of Senate Leader Phil Berger. Anyone entering the building will receive a temperature check, and social distancing will be maintained.
  • Buncombe County will continue free community-based COVID-19 testing at sites across the county next week. Testing will be available at Pisgah View Apartments on Tuesday, May 19, from 1-4 p.m; Sandy Mush Community Center on Wednesday, May 20, from 1-4 p.m; and Deaverview Apartments on Thursday, May 21, from 1-4 p.m.
  • First Horizon Bank donated $15,000 to the YMCA of Western North Carolina to help with coronavirus response efforts, including emergency childcare and feeding programs. The YMCA has distributed more than 100,000 pounds of fresh produce to the community since the pandemic began.
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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