A sixth outbreak of COVID-19 at a long-term care facility has been reported in Buncombe County, Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, announced at a June 18 press conference. The news comes days after the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners directed county staff to use up to $250,000 of previously allocated COVID-19 relief funds to conduct universal baseline testing at the 35 licensed skilled nursing and adult care facilities in the county.
The move allows the county to become the payer of last resort in the event that long-term care facility staff are uninsured or otherwise unable to pay for COVID-19 testing. Approximately 1,000 of the nearly 2,400 employees working in the county’s 35 “most fragile” facilities had not yet received COVID-19 testing, said Buncombe County Manager Avril Pinder during a June 16 meeting of the county board. Completing a first round of “point-in-time” testing for the remaining untested staff will cost up to $80,000, she explained, depending on how many have health insurance.
The primary need for employee testing is at Aston Park Health Care Center, Mullendore explained, the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in a North Carolina long-term care facility. COVID-19 testing for roughly 96 Aston Park employees costs over $7,000 weekly, and must be repeated weekly until 14 days pass with no new cases.
Sixteen of the 35 facilities are expected to complete their baseline testing by June 26, Mullendore said. At this time, there is no set timeline for the baseline testing to conclude.
The name of the long-term care facility reporting Buncombe’s sixth outbreak and updated congregate living COVID-19 case counts will be released Friday, June 19 at 4 p.m.
NC to begin COVID-19 testing in state prisons
Under updated guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Service, the state’s Department of Public Safety has begun testing the 31,200 incarcerated individuals within the state’s prison system for COVID-19.
The process is estimated to take at least 60 days and will cost roughly $3.3 million, explained Todd Ishee, the N.C. commissioner of prisons, during a June 18 press conference. The tests will be analyzed through Burlington-based LabCorp. All results will be sent directly to the Department of Prisons’ offender health care records and anonymized information will continue to be posted to the DPS website, Ishee said.
As of June 18, 2,809 offenders have been tested for COVID-19, Ishee continued, accounting for almost 10% of the state’s overall offender population. “Our top priority is recognizing everyone’s safety — and I mean everyone,” he said.
All individuals being transferred to state prisons from county jails are already being tested for COVID-19 and held under medical quarantine until test results are known, Ishee noted. DPS will test or quarantine incarcerated individuals in “limited instances” when they are transferred between state facilities, he said.
In other news
- Next week, Buncombe County will conduct community COVID-19 testing at residential facilities that house high-risk older adults. Public community-based testing will resume the week of June 29 at more permanent facilities with longer hours, Mullendore said.
- Buncombe County Recreation Services’ five outdoor swimming pools are now open with added safety and sanitation measures. Pools will open for two limited capacity swimming sessions Monday through Saturday and one session on Sunday. Visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets online and are expected to wear a cloth face covering when not in the pool and avoid close contact with anyone who is not immediate family.
- The YMCA of Western North Carolina is continuing its summer feeding program at its summer day camps and at locations across the region. Open sites for anyone 18 and under will operate at Pisgah View and Crowell apartments in Asheville, the Ferguson Family YMCA in Candler, Corpening Memorial YMCA and Grace Community Church in Marion, Patton Pool in Hendersonville and Montford Cove Baptist Church in Union Mills outside Rutherfordton.
- The N.C. Center for Health and Wellness at UNC Asheville has received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand its falls prevention program across the state. The three-year grant funding will help assess information technology needs and create new referral systems.