Virus update 3

Winder Health Care and Rehab is seen on April 28. 

Six residents of Winder Health Care and Rehabilitation have died from COVID-19, and 68 more have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

The large spike in numbers comes after the Georgia National Guard conducted tests of all residents last week. At the time of that testing, only two residents had tested positive, five had pending results and no deaths had been reported.

Since the outbreak began, more than 60 percent of the facility's resident population has tested positive. Of the current 115 residents, 59.1 percent have tested positive. 

Katy Callaway, the administrator for the nursing home on East May Street, said Thursday that some of the residents who had died passed away at the facility, while others either died at a hospital or in hospice care. Of the other 68, Callaway said 90 percent were asymptomatic, meaning they had not shown any symptoms of COVID-19. 

"We're discussing with the others and their families a plan of treatment and what they would like it to be," Callaway said, adding that five residents were currently hospitalized.

The latest numbers were provided Wednesday night by the Georgia Department of Community Health, which compiles a daily report on long-term care facilities around the state that have confirmed cases of the virus. The numbers were up to date as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to the department.

Callaway said 11 residents were retested Thursday because their results from the April 30 testing returned "invalid" due to faulty samples. The results are expected back in three to seven days, she said.

Winder Health Care has been ravaged by the highly-contagious virus, which elderly and medically-fragile people are most vulnerable to, and an initial outbreak last month among nearly two dozen employees left the facility short-staffed to the point where it had to request emergency workers from the state. Twenty-three staff members at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest DCH report. Callaway said "a couple of" the employees had to be hospitalized, but most have recovered and have been able to safely return to work under federal safety guidelines.

Of the 340 facilities identified in the DCH report, Winder Health Care ranks in the top 20 in percentage of residents positive for COVID-19 and in the top 15 in numbers of employees infected.

Faced with numerous concerns from residents' families amid a shortage of available testing for residents from commercial labs, and with several residents exhibiting signs of the illness, Callaway last week requested the Georgia National Guard come test all of the residents. The testing took place April 30, two days after a Guard contingent arrived at the facility with over 100 tests but was diverted at the last minute to the detention center in Elbert County.

The Guard had made two previous trips to the facility during April, one for testing of employees and another for a deep-cleaning of the site.

Callaway said last week that she had been told by a Guard lieutenant that the jail was considered a "higher-priority" site. 

But Lt. Col. Patrick Watson, the Guard's director of public affairs, said Thursday that was not the case. Watson said there was a logistical issue where the Guard was a few tests short of being able to test every resident and the detention center was already scheduled for the next day. 

"We receive our mission assignments from GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency)," Watson said. "We did respond and cleared this up with the (Winder Health Care) administration."

"I'm just satisfied they were finally able to get tested," Callaway said Thursday when asked about the explanation. "We're doing our best to make sure we're taking care of our residents and we appreciate the community's support during this time."

The other location in Barrow County in the DCH's latest report is the Mulberry Grove assisted living facility in Statham, where one positive test by an employee has been reported as of Wednesday. No confirmed cases among residents there have been reported so far.


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