As Mobile continues to draw attention for having the most COVID-19 cases and deaths in Alabama, public officials are pointing the finger at multiple large outbreaks in local nursing homes.
On Thursday, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said, with the benefit of hindsight, that the city should have been prioritizing nursing homes early on in the outbreak when distributing the limited supply of personal protective equipment it was able to procure. As he noted, medical-grade PPE can still be hard to come by.
“We knew early on nursing homes were where our most vulnerable populations lived, but there was very little personal protective equipment to go around and we were trying to get it to our first responders and healthcare providers,” Stimpson said. “We’re doing everything we can now to make sure those in our nursing homes and the Mobile County [Metro] jail have the equipment that they need.”
Specifically, Stimpson said volunteers were already working to repair N95 masks in the city’s own stockpile that have degraded over time. He also said his administration would continue to use whatever resources and influence it can to secure new equipment for those facilities as it becomes available.
Metro jail and at least six nursing homes in the area have been identified by the Mobile County Health Department as congregate settings that are battling “cluster” outbreaks of COVID-19. Like Stimpson, MCHD Epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree said those clusters are a large part of why the Mobile area’s number of cases and reported deaths are the highest in the state.
“The 53 patients who have died with COVID-19 represent about six and half percent of all cases. That has gone up and it is largely due to the six or seven outbreaks we have going on in congregant settings,” Murphree said. “The ones in nursing homes are very difficult situations, and a large number of our deaths are related to those outbreaks.”
Over the past week, members of Alabama’s National Guard have been performing disinfection procedures at several long term care facilities in Mobile. The exact number of cases and deaths connected to those facilities is unclear as they aren’t required to release that information, though some have done so.
As Lagniappe has reported, Crowne Health Care has reported more than 100 cases of COVID-19 at its facility in Mobile as well as 12 deaths. In an interview with NBC 15 reporter Rachael Wilkerson earlier this week, a spokesperson for Ashland Health and Rehabilitation said its facility has seen 69 positive cases since the outbreak began in March and has lost five residents to the disease.
Other nursing homes have confirmed outbreaks but not offered specific numbers of cases or deaths.
But even if those 17 are the only deaths connected to local nursing homes, they still account for more than 32 percent of the 53 deaths reported in Mobile County as of this afternoon. Murphree said MCHD was working on a way to compile and release separate data points about cases and deaths reported in congregate settings, like nursing homes but has not released that information yet.
She did offer some context as part of a new batch of data on the outcomes reported by some of the early COVID-19 patients in Mobile County. Over the past week, MCHD has been conducting follow-up interviews with more than 600 of those patients and plans to continue doing so moving forward.
“Of those we were able to interview, sixteen percent were known to be healthcare workers. We know we have transmission to and among healthcare workers and most likely from healthcare workers to residents of healthcare facilities,” Murphree said. “Ten percent of those were known to be from or associated with a long term care facility. That was from the first 610 cases, but our outbreaks have expanded within long term care facilities since then so we expect that will increase quite a bit.”
Also in the new data was the first information on how many people in Mobile County have recovered from COVID-19. Murphree said among 437 patients interviewed last week who were symptomatic when they tested positive for COVID-19, 44 percent had recovered.
Though some of the groups that were able to be contacted for interviews were small, Murphree said the information collected has helped public health officials get a better idea of how COVID-19 has impacted patients locally. She said the average duration of illness reported by those patients was 13 days. For those who were hospitalized, the average stay was around eight days with a full range was between tw0 to 19 days.
Of the hospitalized patients interviewed last week, 48 percent were treated at Mobile Infirmary, 21 percent at Providence Hospital, 20 percent at Springhill Medical Center and 6 percent at University Hospital. It was unclear where another five percent of those patients were hospitalized.
“These are not hard facts and figures that are going to stay the same, but we will continue to look at this kind of information and use it to help guide decisions about mitigation efforts in the community,” Murphree added.
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