- Associated Press - Monday, April 27, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Four North Carolina nursing homes have each had at least 10 deaths of residents diagnosed with COVID-19, according to data released on Monday by state health officials.

The Department of Health and Human Services agreed to specifically identify more than 70 long-term facilities, rehabilitation centers, adult care homes and other corporate living locations where outbreaks have occurred. Now it will give updates twice weekly.

Before Monday, the department hadn’t identified the specific facilities, with officials saying it could break confidentiality rules on patient information. The agency had only released the overall number of positive cases at these facilities and the counties where they were located. But some county health departments named the facilities anyway, leading to a fragmented picture of cases.

State DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said her department revisited the policy in the interest of standardizing information and avoiding a patchwork of rules across the state. Several media outlets had reported about the disparate release of the information and had pressed DHHS to release specific information about infections and deaths at individual nursing homes across the state.

“We’ve been trying to always strike the balance of transparency and getting good data to folks, protecting public health and protecting individual privacy,” Cohen said at a media briefing.

Like elsewhere in the country, the new coronavirus is striking North Carolina nursing homes and similar congregate facilities particularly hard. Monday’s report counted 1,650 positive cases among residents and more than 140 deaths. Gov. Roy Cooper has issued an executive order telling workers at long-term care facilities to wear masks all the time and isolate residents who test positive or have suspected cases.

Some of the deadliest outbreaks at nursing homes on Monday’s list had already been disclosed by local health departments. The Louisburg Healthcare and Rehab Center has 14 deaths, while Pruitt Health-Carolina Point in Orange County has 11 deaths, Monday’s report shows.

The Citadel at Salisbury and Autumn Care in Cornelius both had 10 deaths. Rowan County government said last week that 15 residents at The Citadel had died. Rowan emergency services leader TJ Brown said later Monday he wasn’t sure why the state’s number didn’t match.

Overall, North Carolina reported more than 9,100 positive cases statewide as of Monday, an increase of 300 compared to Sunday. There have been more than 300 deaths, and 475 people with the virus are currently hospitalized, according to DHHS testing.

Expanded testing also appears to have contributed to additional positive cases within state prisons and at food processing facilities.

Testing over the weekend of offenders in all five dormitories in a housing unit at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh determined that 70 had tested positive, the state Department of Public Safety said. A majority of the women showed no COVID-19 symptoms. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness or even death. Two state prisoners diagnosed with COVID-19 have died.

There are now 400 confirmed cases involving workers at meat-processing facilities, a state DHHS spokeswoman said Monday, an increase of almost 140 compared to Friday. There are 13 outbreaks at facilities in 11 counties, but the agency has declined to identify the plants. DHHS has worked with some plant operators to provide free testing for workers and their family members.

Cooper last week issued a statewide stay-at-home order until May 8. He laid out a three-phase plan to reopen businesses and loosen restrictions on mass gatherings if the state meets case and hospitalization goals and the expansion of testing and contact tracing. Cohen announced an initiative on Monday with Community Care of North Carolina and the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers to hire an additional 250 local tracing workers.


Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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