List of infected Georgia nursing and senior care homes nearly doubles

A Georgia Army National Guard unit on Friday cleaned a senior living facility in Buckhead. Gov. Brian Kemp has sent guard members to disinfect many long-term-care facilities, even those with no coronavirus outbreaks, as a preventative measure. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

A Georgia Army National Guard unit on Friday cleaned a senior living facility in Buckhead. Gov. Brian Kemp has sent guard members to disinfect many long-term-care facilities, even those with no coronavirus outbreaks, as a preventative measure. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

At a nursing home in tiny Cuthbert, in Southwest Georgia, 47 people have been infected with the coronavirus, including four who died. A home in Albany has an outbreak raging with 62 cases and at least seven deaths. An assisted living facility in Atlanta has 70 cases and seven deaths.

The number of long-term care facilities with coronavirus outbreaks in Georgia grew to 80 on Friday, according to the latest figures released by the state, a grim marker to how fast the virus is taking hold across a system that cares for thousands of state's most vulnerable adults. A week earlier, the Department of Public Health had listed 47 facilities with known outbreaks.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

DPH on Wednesday said 81 people in long-term care facilities had died after contracting the virus.

Some senior care facilities on the list show only a few reported cases. But the CDC has said that nursing homes and assisted living communities should respond urgently to even a single case because the virus can so rapidly spread through vulnerable populations.

The list also has several metro Atlanta homes with significant outbreaks. Sadie G. Mays Health & Rehab nursing home in northwest Atlanta has 10 cases, and Westminster Commons nursing home in Midtown has 11 cases, state records show.

Members of the 265th Infectious Control GA Army National Guard enter a senior living facility in Buckhead Friday to clean the building. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

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Yet the numbers may not reflect the reality of what the facilities are facing now. Public health officials say the list shows cases it had verified as of Wednesday. Local health departments and facilities themselves have more up-to-date figures that suggest the outbreaks are larger and more widespread.

The state report shows Arbor Terrace at Cascade, an assisted living facility in Atlanta, with more than 20 residents and staff with the virus and two known deaths. But Fulton health officials on Friday confirmed that 17 staff and 48 residents are infected. Fulton officials say seven people from the facility have died.

The home, which has 92 beds, told families in a letter on Friday that it was aware of 50 residents and 20 staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 26. The letter says nothing about anyone dying from the outbreak.

“Many of these individuals who tested positive currently have mild or no symptoms,” Judd Harper, the company’s president, said in the letter. “We are monitoring all residents for symptoms of COVID-19 and closely watching and supporting those who tested positive for changes in their symptoms.”

The state lists Windermere Health and Rehabilitation Center in Augusta as having one case. But just hours after the release, a news station in Augusta reported that 67 residents and seven employees at the home had tested positive.

The DPH release Friday ends a week in which Gov. Brian Kemp acknowledged the problem had worsened. At a news conference on Wednesday, Kemp announced an executive order that was designed to try to contain the virus in long-term care facilities. “We had been talking about the concern for nursing home, long-term care facilities for many weeks now because we know it’s a vulnerable population,” he said.

Residents of The Phoenix at Roswell were moved to another facility, as the company prepares to use the home as a coronavirus center. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

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More than a week ago, Kemp started deploying Georgia National Guardsmen to assisted-living facilities and nursing homes to help with infection control. But cases have continued to increase, and the state said the new order would allow public health officials to be more proactive.

The governor’s order followed news on Tuesday that 10 residents at PruittHealth-Grandview nursing home in Athens had died after contracting the virus. The company placed the facility on Code Red alert and said it was following infection control protocols. The state report issued Friday lists only eight cases at the home and no known deaths.

» RELATED: Georgia's COVID-19 deaths surge, and a rural county coroner reels

» EARLIER: State provides first accounting of outbreaks in senior care facilities

The company has also listed the Georgia War Veterans Home, which it operates in Milledgeville, on Code Red status with at least six people who’ve tested positive. On Wednesday, police investigators were called to the home after a fight between residents left one of them dead — an 88-year-old who had wandered into the other resident’s room. Milledgeville Police said they plan to file murder charges against the resident later.

“Our veterans’ safety and well-being remain our highest priorities at PruittHealth, and we are cooperating with local authorities to the fullest extent,” the company said in a statement.

PruittHealth-Palmyra in Albany has 62 confirmed cases and at least five known deaths according to the state, although the company confirms seven patients died. Pelham Parkway nursing home has 24 cases and one death.

The Cuthbert facility hit so hard by the virus is Joe-Anne Burgin Nursing Home, which is owned by the county but managed by Phoebe Putney health system.

That could be why they were able to test so many residents and staff so quickly and learn the scope of the outbreak. Cuthbert Mayor Steve Whatley said when the results came back last weekend, it drove home the scope of what the home and many others across Georgia are facing. Many of those who tested positive were not showing symptoms, he said.

On Thursday, movers came to The Phoenix at Roswell. The company is preparing the facility to be a coronavirus care center. .JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

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“We have a very serious situation on our hands as do (dozens) of other nursing homes in state,” Whatley said.

The discrepancies in reporting between what’s on DPH list and the figures reported at the local level underscore the struggle to get definitive data and information about the virus’s spread. Leaders in the long-term care industry say they need more access to testing so they can determine who has the virus and who doesn’t, which will help them manage and contain the infection.

“It can spread very widely, very quickly,” said Tony Marshall, CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association, the state’s largest nursing home trade group. “We’re seeing it across the state.”

Phoenix Senior Living is planning for a long road ahead as it tries to manage any outbreaks across their facilities. The Roswell-based company has 19 assisted living communities in Georgia. It has been making preparations to have two stand-alone assisted living homes to serve residents who test positive for the virus. The company says that will help them care for positive patients while protecting residents who don’t have the virus.

“We don’t see an end any time soon,” said Yolanda Doley Hunter, the company’s vice president of quality assurance & risk management. “We’re just planning ahead.”