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.