This story was updated Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at 6:45 p.m. with more information.
Life Care Center of Athens, Tennessee, on Wednesday reported that two residents have died during the coronavirus outbreak and two more are hospitalized.
"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of the residents who have passed away as the result of COVID-19," said Jeffrey Ricks, executive director of the senior living facility.
The center reported that 58 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, including the four cases that were transferred to the hospital.
Also, 12 workers at the Life Care Centers of America facility have tested positive, according to Ricks.
Some 37 residents have tested negative for COVID-19, he said in a statement.
"We are working closely with the Tennessee Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and the local health department to ensure we are taking the appropriate steps at this time," Ricks said.
He said that since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the facility has been following the latest guidelines, from both state and federal authorities, including the CDC.
"We remain in consistent communication with our medical director and local hospitals to ensure our residents are transferred if more acute care is needed," Ricks said. "We are also checking in with their families frequently and providing as much support as possible."
The Athens facility is part of Cleveland, Tennessee-based Life Care Centers, which is the largest private nursing home company in the United States.
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.
In Athens, it was only a week ago that the center reported just four cases of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, during a teleconference call with state legislators on Wednesday, 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.
"But there are 700 long-term care facilities in this state with 70,000 residents. And from a prevention standpoint, more importantly, 70,000 staff who go out into the community and back into the nursing home to serve these residents," he said.
Lee told legislators to encourage nursing homes to get their staff tested.
"We are certainly doing that from the state standpoint and we have test strategies and we're working with nursing homes, but getting to all 700 of them in short order is not possible for the state to go into those and do testing right off the bat," he said.
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.
The group said that despite data and reports showing the outsized impact of the coronavirus on long-term care residents, particularly those with underlying health conditions, industry leaders indicate that nursing homes and assisted living communities have not been a priority for supplies, testing or resources.
The group's CEO, Mark Parkinson, said the profession is doing everything it can with current resources, but it's not enough to stop the spread of this virus within long-term care facilities.
"Our profession has been sounding the alarm for weeks and weeks, but we have largely been forgotten by the public health sector," he said. "If we are not made a top priority, this situation will get worse, with the most vulnerable in our society being lost."
McMinn County Mayor John Gentry said that "knowledge is power."
"Testing provides another level of knowledge," he said.
Also, Gentry said, people need to realize how to live life daily with proper separation and hygiene.
He said the spike in cases in McMinn was due to Life Care Athens.
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