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COVID-19 spreading again in Rhode Island nursing homes

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The latest wave of coronavirus cases is again spreading into nursing homes, which were previously the epicenter of both infections and deaths in Rhode Island.

The R.I. Department of Health on Wednesday reported at least 240 new infections were discovered among residents across 24 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities over the past two weeks, marking the first time there’s been more than 100 cases reported over a two-week period since May.

“We are seeing elevated rates of community transmission all throughout Rhode Island,” Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said Thursday. “While the rates in nursing homes are not what they were in March and April, we are definitely seeing some of that community transmission spill over into nursing homes.”

Silver Creek Manor in Bristol reported at least 65 new cases over the last two weeks, which was the most among all long-term care facilities with new infections. Mansion Center in Central Falls and Robert Health Center in North Kingstown both reported more than 40 new infections, according to the Health Department.

In addition to the new infections, the state also reported at least 15 new deaths of COVID-19 patients in long-term care facilities. Since March, at least 870 residents with COVID-19 have died in nursing homes, representing about 70% of the pandemic’s death toll in Rhode Island.

National experts have begun warning about renewed risks in nursing homes.

“Covid cases and deaths are rising in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, despite the national policy goal to focus resources on protecting elderly in these locations; probably reflecting a worsening epidemic that is impacting these settings,” tweeted Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, over the weekend.

The latest cases in Rhode Island mark a significant spike compared to recent months. Last week, the state reported 95 cases over a two-week period. Prior to that, cases had last peaked at 75 on June 11, according to historic records.

The new infections are mounting despite widespread efforts from the Health Department and R.I. National Guard to keep the virus out of the nursing homes. The effort — which includes cyclical surveillance testing of residents with or without symptoms — had appeared to be effective over the last several months, as infections and deaths remained relatively low, even as infections started to rise within the community.

It remains unclear why the virus is now spreading again, but Wendelken said the workforce coming and going from the facilities is likely on contributing factor.

“The staff people who work in nursing homes are in the community,” he said.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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