Buncombe long-term care facility reclassifies 10 COVID-19 deaths

LIMITED SUPPLY: North Carolina’s hospitals and labs are running out of chemical reagents vital for COVID-19 testing, increasing turnaround times to as much as six days. State health officials have called for federal assistance securing the supplies. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

A Buncombe County long-term care facility is now regarding 10 deaths previously attributed to COVID-19 as not caused by the coronavirus, announced Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, during a July 2 press conference. Although all 10 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19, she said, their deaths were not directly related to infection with the virus. 

The facility’s medical director caught the mistake while reviewing death records of the residents and reported it to county communicable disease staff, Mullendore said. While Mullendore did not directly name the facility, Aston Park Health Care Center is the only Buncombe long-term care facility to have reported more than two COVID-19 deaths among staff and residents. 

Mullendore explained that deaths must meet a specific definition to be classified as caused by COVID-19. She gave the example of a hypothetical patient with COVID-19 dying from unrelated bleeding: The patient died, but not directly from the virus. 

“When you’re in the midst of dealing with a very large outbreak, I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not step back and take the time to dig into the details,” Mullendore said. “Clearly, lesson learned.” 

The change will lower Buncombe County’s COVID-19 deaths to 30, Mullendore said, with 25 of those deaths coming from residents of long-term care facilities. State and county coronavirus dashboards will reflect the updated statistics in the coming days. 

Mullendore also reported that one outbreak at a county long-term care facility has officially come to an end, bringing Buncombe’s active COVID-19 outbreaks down to seven. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services considers an outbreak to be over after 28 days with no additional cases. The name of the facility will likely be included in the NCDHHS congregate living report released Tuesday, July 7. 

State calls for federal COVID-19 testing support

North Carolina can’t fight the pandemic alone, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, during a July 2 press conference. The state’s hospitals and commercial labs are running short of chemicals vital for COVID-19 testing, she explained — and inaction from the federal government isn’t helping.

Due to insufficient supplies of test reagents, Cohen said, labs have had to slow the speed at which they process potential COVID-19 samples. Normal test turnaround times of 24-48 hours have recently increased to as much as six days, delaying the state’s ability to understand viral spread as it happens.

“We can’t solve that problem from the state level,” Cohen said. “We need federal assistance; we need assistance from the supply chain on this, so we are raising those concerns today.”

Cohen also said the federal government should fund more COVID-19 testing sites throughout North Carolina. Such a move would run counter to current trends: As NPR reported on June 24, the administration of President Donald Trump moved to eliminate support for 13 sites across five states as of July 1.

In other news

With additional reporting by Daniel Walton

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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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One thought on “Buncombe long-term care facility reclassifies 10 COVID-19 deaths

  1. T.Sween

    So all of these residents passed away during a Covid outbreak in their care facility but their simultaneous deaths weren’t from Covid? I am not clear on the specific requirements of reporting but to me this looks like a Florida-esque number cook.

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