PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There are 17 Rhode Island nursing homes reporting that at least one COVID-19 case, and now the health department is looking to cohort the sick residents to prevent further spread of the virus.

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health, said they’re considering opening up a nursing home where they can group all COVID-19 positive residents together.

“This is a way of getting them the specialize care they need and of limiting transmission,” Wendelken explained in a statement.

At this time, Wendelken said residents who have not tested positive for COVID-19 will not be moved from the facilities in which they live. “That is a matter of patient/resident choice,” he explained.

Wendelken said the facilities cohorting nursing home residents with COVID-19 will also be accepting older adults who have been discharged from the hospital but still need treatment for their symptoms.

Dr. James McDonald, the health department’s medical director, said 16 of the state’s 27 deaths were nursing home residents. Ten of those deaths are linked to Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence.

McDonald said both Golden Crest and Oak Hill Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Pawtucket have approximately 70 COVID-19 cases apiece.

Other nursing homes with clusters of cases include Riverview in Coventry, Orchard View Manor in East Providence, Oakland Grove in Woonsocket and Mount St. Rita in Cumberland. (The other nursing homes are not being identified unless they develop a cluster of cases in an effort to protect the privacy of the residents who live there.)

McDonald hopes cohorting residents will prevent additional clusters of cases from forming.

“Using this model will allow facilities to have more access to personal protective equipment, doctors and nurses with more familiarity to the virus and will ideally allow folks to have better outcomes,” he said.

The nursing homes being considered for the cohorts have not been announced yet, but the plans are in the process of being finalized, McDonald said.