More than 1,200 long-term care facility residents and employees in Alabama have tested positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported Sunday.
At least 770 residents and 496 employees have tested positive, according to the latest data. The cases in these long-term care facilities, which include both nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, account for at least 16 percent of the state’s positive cases.
The number of confirmed cases among residents has increased from 526 on April 26, and among employees from 359 cases on April 26.
The Alabama Department of Public Health is not publicly releasing the number of deaths reported in long-term care facilities or which facilities have identified cases, citing privacy concerns.
“From what we’ve observed in other states around the country, it seems like nursing home peaks trend behind general population peaks,” said John Matson with the Alabama Nursing Home Association. “We knew once Alabama peaked that nursing homes would not be out of the woods yet.”
The number of cases included in the Alabama Department of Public Health’s reporting includes both nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The number of deaths and cases in nursing homes, in particular, is worrying to public health and nursing home officials.
In Mobile County, nearly a third of the county’s deaths, as of Sunday, have been linked to one nursing home. Mobile County has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the state. Crowne Health Care of Mobile has said that at least 17 residents and two employees have died. Twenty-two residents were hospitalized as of Friday. Nursing homes in Hoover and Alexander City have also seen high numbers of cases.
Matson said Sunday that the association, which represents about 94 percent of the state’s nursing homes, is aware of at least 85 member facilities with reported cases in 43 counties.
“We fully expected the number of cases to rise,” Matson said. “The main reason is because we’re finally able to get access to testing that we’ve needed for so long. … That’s a good thing because you can only treat what you know.”
In the initial weeks of the outbreak in Alabama, Matson said nursing homes struggled to get access to testing. But that has improved in recent weeks as testing has expanded.
“It’s getting better, but we’re still not where we want to be,” Matson said. “I’m not casting any blame on the Alabama Department of Public Health. They’ve worked with us hand-in-hand. But when there’s just not enough tests available, there are not enough tests available.”
In recent weeks, those who are hospitalized, health care workers and long-term care facility residents and employees have been given priority for testing. Nursing homes have also found private labs to test their residents.
“As you run more tests, you’re going to receive more results,” Matson said. “One thing I think this is illustrating is what we’ve been trying to say all along: This is very serious, especially for people who are elderly and with multiple medical conditions. And those are nursing home residents. That’s why we were so vigilant in the first place.”
Some nursing homes in the state, Matson said, have been given special authorization to test all of their residents, and they’ve found many positive cases who were asymptomatic.
“The problem we’ve had with testing is that under CDC guidelines, you didn’t give priority for someone who was asymptomatic and elderly,” Matson said. “You were only giving access to testing to people who were symptomatic and elderly. You’ve got to know if someone is positive or negative because they could very well be positive but exhibit no symptoms.”
Statewide, there are 24,500 nursing home residents, which does not include residents in assisted living facilities. There are 231 nursing homes in Alabama. The Alabama National Guard was called on to disinfect the state’s nursing homes, and Matson said member facilities are taking additional precautions to screen residents and employees.