Dozens of patients and staff at a Tennessee nursing home test positive for COVID-19; 2 dead

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — UPDATE: (3/29/20)

Fifty-nine additional residents at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation & Healing have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s COVID-19 Unified Command on Sunday night. Also, 33 staff tested positive and are isolated at home. Two people have now died.

Testing of 142 patients from the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation & Healing took place Saturday, according to Mayor Brown on Sunday morning. Seventeen of them have reportedly been transported to Sumner Regional Medical Center. Results from those tests are still pending. Staff were also being tested.

(AP - Saturday) — A Tennessee nursing home has moved 24 patients to a local hospital after some tested positive for COVID-19, and the hospital said Saturday that one of the patients has died.

The remaining 23 patients have been admitted to the Sumner County Regional Medical Center and are in isolation, according to a post Saturday on the hospital's official Facebook page. The hospital did not disclose whether the patient who died had tested positive for COVID-19 or was one of those with COVID-19 symptoms whose test results were not complete.

Meanwhile, the state was refusing to identify the counties where COVID-19 deaths have occurred.

The Tennessee Health Department website on Saturday listed six deaths in Tennessee from the new coronavirus, but it is impossible to know if the Sumner County death was among them. It is also impossible to know if Shelby County’s first COVID-19 death, which that county’s health department announced in a Saturday news release, was among those listed.

Tennessee was reporting 1,373 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, according to the state Health Department. In general, the state's case numbers have tended to lag those released by the counties.

The state earlier refused to release case information on a county-by-county level but then quickly reversed course after a flood of criticism. When the Knoxville News Sentinel asked about releasing death numbers by county, Tennessee Health Department spokeswoman Shelley Walker said in an email on Saturday, "We are only reporting deaths at the state level due to the risk of reidentification of those individuals."

Tennessee Coalition for Open Government director Deborah Fisher criticized the decision in a statement to the News Sentinel.

“At a time like this, we think the public has an overriding need to understand the location of COVID-19 deaths for public safety reasons,” Fisher wrote. “And the identification of any single person by the public by simply listing the place of death (county, or even city) is not only highly unlikely, it’s also somewhat a leap of imagination. I’m not even sure of the legal justification.”

Meanwhile, in Sumner County, Emergency Medical Services Chief Greg Miller has warned that the number of ill patients at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing could increase. Miller spoke during a news conference on Friday evening. At the time, he said 19 patients were being transported to the Sumner Regional Medical Center.

Hospital CEO Susan Peach said Friday that doctors there had already been seeing patients with COVID-19 and were working to prepare extra isolation units.

“We have mobilized our emergency response team and are implementing plans that will immediately, and significantly, increase our capacity across HighPoint Health System should we experience a steep increase in critically ill patients,” Peach said.

Earlier in the week, the nursing home said an employee had tested positive for COVID-19. Tennessee Health Department spokeswoman Shelley Walker has said the facility is cooperating with the department and has put in place “aggressive” infection control measures.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, and the majority of people recover. But severe cases can need respirators to survive, and with infections spreading exponentially, hospitals across the country are either bracing for a coming wave of patients or already struggling to keep up.