Buncombe reports first COVID-19 death from long-term care facility

COVID-19 North Carolina case graph 5-18-20
PEAKS AND VALLEYS: North Carolina experienced a single-day increase of 853 COVID-19 cases — its largest such increase to date — on May 16. Graphic courtesy of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

Four nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Buncombe County are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, announced Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, at a May 18 press conference. One individual infected at a long-term care facility has died.

Outbreaks — 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 at a single facility — at Aston Park Health Care Center and Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community’s Simonds Health Care Center were first reported last week. According to data released Friday by NCDHHS, four staff members and six residents at Aston Park had tested positive for COVID-19, and four staff members and one resident at Deerfield had tested positive.

The county has not yet disclosed the names of the other two facilities reporting outbreaks. Updated information will be released Tuesday, May 20, at 4 p.m.

As of Monday morning, Buncombe officials had administered nearly 1,000 tests at the four long-term care facilities, Mullendore said. The county is instructing these facilities to test every resident and staff member for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms. Testing will be repeated the following week, and weekly thereafter until no new cases are detected.

Two of the facilities experiencing outbreaks have already administered the second round of testing to residents and staff, Mullendore said.

“The lack of a coordinated plan at the federal level has hampered state and local ability to appropriately address this pandemic,” Mullendore added. “We are having to come up with solutions at the local level.”

N.C. sees largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases

On May 16, North Carolina saw its largest single-day increase in lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services,  during a May 18 press conference. Totaling 853 new cases of COVID-19, the day’s increase exceeded the previous largest rise in cases on May 14 by 162.

The recent increase in cases may be attributed to an increase in testing, Cohen said. As North Carolina expands testing, she explained, public health teams are also tracking the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in comparison to the total number of tests administered. Currently, that number sits at around 7%, which is in the state’s target range.

The spike in cases, noted Cohen, may also be linked to the easing of statewide restrictions on retail businesses in Phase 1 of the governor’s three-phase reopening plan. State officials are expected to release more information regarding the transition to Phase 2 — which would include the reopening of restaurants, bars, public playgrounds and churches at reduced capacity — later this week.

“Any increase like this is concerning and is a reminder of how fast the virus can spread,” Cohen said. She encouraged residents to continue wearing face coverings in public, maintaining social distance of at least 6 feet and washing their hands frequently.

In other news:

  • Buncombe County and Western North Carolina Community Health Services continue to offer free community-based COVID-19 testing. This week, testing will be available at the Pisgah View Community on Tuesday, May 19, from 1-4 p.m.; Sandy Mush Community Center on Wednesday, May 20, from 1-4 p.m.; and Deaverview Community on Thursday, May 21, from 1-4 p.m.
  • DuPont State Recreational Forest and the neighboring Holmes Educational State Forest have begun a phased reopening of trails and facilities. To maintain social distancing, public access is currently restricted to areas that promote “movement-focused activities,” according to a press release from the N.C. Forest Service. Most of the trail systems are open, but parking is limited.
  • NCDHHS has released a comprehensive list of COVID-19 testing locations across the state. The list includes seven locations in Buncombe County, all but one of which are in Asheville.
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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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3 thoughts on “Buncombe reports first COVID-19 death from long-term care facility

  1. Richard B.

    “The lack of a coordinated plan at the federal level has hampered state and local ability to appropriately address this pandemic,” … “We are having to come up with solutions at the local level”, announces BC Interim Health Director Jennifer Mullendore, in response to mounting cases and a death at a nursing home facility.
    For Ms. Mullendore, I have a few facts, and then a question.
    1) Most informed folks, certainly those in the medical field, have known since the outbreak that those over 65 are at the highest risk.
    2) The news media has been telling us for several weeks now that nursing homes have been accounting for up to 50% of deaths from COVID, not just in NYC or NJ, but across the country, with 60% levels in some European cities.
    3) An obvious observation, but one worth stating, that these residents do not acquire the virus and then bring it into the facility to spread among their fellow residents, that is, unless you’re a NY state facility and Governor Cuomo has ordered you to take back patients being discharged from a hospital following treatment for COVID. The residents are getting it from those coming INTO the facility….from staff, delivery people, cooks, cleaners, etc.
    4) I have two daughters in the medical field, one an RN at White Plains Hospital, in the epicenter of the pandemic. Every time she goes to work, she is checked at the door for fever, having been swabbed of course weeks ago, as are all of her colleagues, and as all of us are if we need to go the hospital or similar facility for a med appointment.

    So, Ms. Mullendore, why have these facilities in Buncombe County NOT been placed on a protocol requiring fever checks for ALL who enter, EVERY TIME they enter? This would of course have presumed that ANY and ALL employees, delivery people, etc., have ALSO been tested for the Virus.
    WHY do you need to receive some kind of communication/directive/order, or whatever it is you are looking for, from the Federal Government, more specifically, the Trump people? YOU are being paid by those of us who pay taxes, to make such decisions, I would think.

    That is, unless I misunderstand the scope of the duties of the BC Health Department.
    Simple, but effective solutions. I think that you know this. And do you also think that we don’t? That you can rattle off such blatant political assertions in order to deflect criticisms of your own shortcomings?
    I also think that, like so many Liberal professionals, government authorities, governors, etc., all across the country, you are intent on making COVID a political rallying cry to attack Trump. Not saying he may not deserve criticism, just pointing out the obvious. And it is sickening.

    Kind of reminds me of Katrina, and of how the mayor of New Orleans, a guy named Ray Nagin, disappeared for several days during the crisis, leaving his citizens to fend for themselves, then came back full of steam joining the Liberal media on blaming, not the Democratic Governor of Louisiana, or himself and others who failed to take action recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers concerning Lake Pontchartrain and the flooding risk, but instead blamed the nearest Republican, who happened at the time to be George Bush.

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    • Another Opinion

      Richard B.
      You make some grand erroneous assumptions in your arguments.
      Residents of long term care facilities do leave, and with regularity. They go to medical facilities like the hospital, and when there are empty beds they move in from home, the hospital and other facilities.
      A temperature check doesn’t stop the spread for several reason. People can be asymptomatic still contagious, and people are contagious prior to exhibiting symptom. So both community spread between staff and infected patients can both bring the disease into a facility.
      The reason there hasn’t been widespread testing in WNC is because Buncombe County did not have access to the number of tests required. You can’t test everyone in a the many long term facilities without thousands and thousands of test. Do you know how many long term care facility patients and staff there are?
      The Federal government should have been the agency with the resources to have supplied these test kits, PPE and lab capacity early on.
      Perhaps you should remove your own political blinders, look at the situation in a non-partisan way, rather than try and shield your president King (who himself said has total authority over states).

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    • bsummers

      You can’t deny he’s done everything in his power to hinder a unified national response, from the day he dismantled the pandemic response team, right up until yesterday, when he urged people to take an unproven and dangerous medical treatment. That chaos filters down to the local level, where every action that is taken has Trump-backed protestors calling it communism. Even if it’s a lack of guidance from the CDC, where their guidelines have been shown to be altered by political appointees, to getting PPE and testing supplies, which for a time, the entire admin seemed to have been geared towards making it harder to get.

      Yes, I absolutely hold Trump and his enablers responsible for this, and the voters will too.

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