Life Care Athens reports COVID-19 cases up to 97

FILE - This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, U.S. health regulators OK'd the first coronavirus test that allows people to collect their own sample at home, a new approach that could help expand testing options in most states. The sample will still have to be shipped for processing back to LabCorp, which operates diagnostic labs throughout the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)

Life Care Center of Athens, Tennessee, on Friday reported that 10 more workers have tested positive for COVID-19, pushing the number of associates and residents with the coronavirus to 97.

The center said that 39 employees have tested positive and 26 more tests are pending for workers at the facility.

In addition, 58 residents have tested positive, while 37 are negative for the coronavirus, the center reported.

Two residents have died so far, according to the center owned by Cleveland, Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America. The center issued a statement Friday that had wrongly put the death toll at three.

Jeffrey Ricks, executive director of the facility in Athens, in the statement expressed condolences to the family and friends of the residents who died. Ricks said that patients who test positive are separated from those who test negative.

If an associate tests positive, he or she is not allowed to return to work until guidelines from the CDC for returning to work are met, he said.

"As many of our staff members have, unfortunately, tested positive, we have relied upon the Life Care network to provide additional staff," Ricks said. "There are many facilities close enough, and we are thankful to have sister facilities who are willing to send staff and help us."

Ricks said that any associate from another Life Care facility who works in the Athens site will not return to their original location until they meet CDC guidelines.

Life Care Centers of America is the nation's largest private nursing home company. A Life Care Centers nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, has seen more than 120 cases of coronavirus infections and at least 37 deaths. That facility emerged as an early center of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

Earlier this week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee raised concerns about nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

"You know, the nursing home and long-term facilities that are in your district, they house, they hold, they take care of, they are the location where the most vulnerable population in Tennessee lives," Lee said. "These are the folks who are at risk. They are the ones mostly likely to have a loss of life as a result of COVID-19."

The governor said the state is developing a strategy around nursing homes and surge testing.

Also, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, representing more than 14,000 nursing homes and similar facilities, called on state and federal government agencies to provide expanded and priority testing.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP