A little over a week after announcing the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in Knox County, the nursing home that saw 46 residents and eight staffers test positive announced Tuesday that five of its residents, who tested positive for COVID-19, have died.
“In conjunction with Christian Health Center, Corbin, it saddens us to report there has been five deaths at the facility. These are the first deaths Knox County is reporting that have been linked to COVID-19,” the Knox County Health Department noted in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon.
Of the five deaths, four were previously hospice or comfort care patients before contracting the virus, which allows for caring for any pain and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs at the end of life, according to a Christian Health Center press release, which was published on the Knox County Health Department’s Facebook page.
All the patients were over age 85 and had advanced heart failure or advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The fifth resident was 96 years old and had advanced Alzheimer’s disease, the Christian Health Center release noted.
All five residents and families were aware of their natural decline in health prior to the virus outbreak.
“It’s important the community has full information about the situation, especially in long-term care. While we all grieve the loss of these residents we find comfort in knowing that their passing was not directly attributed to this devastating virus,” said Janet Lovitt, Executive Director.
Additional testing of Christian Health Center residents and staff is ongoing.
“Any death is a tragedy and the loss is felt by family, friends and our staff. The Christian Health Center is a critical part of our region’s healthcare system and we appreciate the support and prayers from the community as we work diligently to combat the virus,” said Mary Lynn Spalding, CEO & President of Christian Care Communities.
“As a faith-inspired team, we will most assuredly come out stronger on the other side of this and everyone has our commitment to always communicate transparently and be diligent in our care.”
Knox County Health Department Public Health Director Rebecca Rains added that the dedication and hard work of Christian Health Center is truly admirable.
“It is tragic to report any death, but we do recognize these residents had prior health conditions that contributed to their death rather than being directly related to the virus. We feel it’s important the community stays well informed about the situation and our hearts are with all of the families and staff,” Rains added.
The news of Knox County’s first COVID-related deaths comes on the heels of unflattering reports that have painted Knox County in a dim light.
Just when businesses, churches and routine life started returning to what was considered close to normal, positive COVID-19 cases have begun spiking in Knox and surrounding counties. The news has brought unwelcome attention to the area in light of the rise in coronavirus cases.
A study released by Harvard University over the weekend listed Knox County as the worst-performing county in the state during the past week, with 23.4 cases per 100,000 people. Comparatively, Jefferson County, Kentucky’s most populous county with three-quarters of a million people, saw just 4.5 cases per 100,000 people during the same time-frame.
According to the statistical website, covidactnow.org, Knox County’s infection rate stands at 1.4% as of Tuesday. The number doesn’t seem high, but compared to nationally-known COVID hot-spots such as Pigeon Forge, Myrtle Beach and the state of Florida, Knox County’s ranking is worse than either of those locations. It should be noted, however, that not every county is faithfully reporting updated data, so the statistical information is only based on what is available. For example, Bell County has zero data showing on the site.
Rains said she is encouraged by the numbers of community-spread cases in Knox County, with only 14 people contracting the virus from an unidentified source. Only nine people reported known exposure to a positive case; six were tested for pre-op but were asymptomatic; and eight people tested positive associated with travel outside of the state.
Rains said there are 52 currently-active cases, with 35 having recovered, and five deceased.
One complaint often lodged when a new case is reported is the lack of identifying information, such as if a business, church or medical facility was associated with a positive case. When asked why more specific details aren’t made available by KCHD when reports are made, Rains responded, “When a case is investigated, the risk to the public is assessed. Depending on the risk assessment, the determination is then made whether or not to release that information publicly. If the risk is determined to be extremely low, then that information is not publicly reported. Sometimes a business/church will choose to notify its customers or congregation out of courtesy rather than out of necessity. KCHD wants to respect the autonomy of our cases to the greatest extent possible. Especially in small communities, releasing several demographic factors can lead to that case potentially being identified.” Identifying a COVID-positive individual publicly would be a violation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
According to Rains, more than 1,700 COVID-19 tests have been administered in Knox County. Rapid testing is available through First Care in Corbin. “This is an antigen-based test that gives results in approximately 15 minutes,” said Rains.
The Knox County Health Department reported Monday evening that seven additional residents had tested positive for COVID-19.
Tuesday evening, the Knox County Health Department reported two additional cases raising the county’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 92.
Between April 6 and May 30, Knox County reported 10 COVID-19 cases with all 10 patients having fully recovered by June 15.
Out of the first 75 Knox County cases, one patient was under the age of 18, seven patients were ages 18-30, eight patients were ages 31-40, eight patients were ages 41-50, five patients were ages 51-60, five patients were ages 61-70, 12 patients were age 71-80, and 29 patients were over age 80.
(News Journal Editor Mark White contributed to this story.)