As Georgia braces for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, long-term care providers face a crucial challenge of containing a potential disease spread among older and frail patients.

Five long-term care facilities in Georgia have so far reported the presence of the fast-spreading disease among their residents or employees – raising fears of a possible deadly outbreak among an especially vulnerable group of people.

One resident at Greenwood Place Marietta, an assisted-living community for seniors, has tested positive for COVID-19, Georgia Health News has learned. Another patient is being tested, while four more have symptoms of the disease.

Enlivant, the Chicago-based company that operates Greenwood Place Marietta, said Monday that the two patients who were tested lived in a unit that supports people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For three days, Enlivant said, the facility practiced social distancing as it waited for test results. It wasn’t until Sunday, when the test returned positive, that the company required staff and residents to wear protective gear, according to a company statement.

After the confirmed COVID-19 case, the company required staff and residents to wear protective gear, an Enlivant executive said. Since Sunday, four more residents, with coronavirus-like symptoms, have since been sent to a hospital. Enlivant said the company followed the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The safety and health of our employees and residents is our top priority,” Louis Kievit, Enlivant’s vice president of sales and customer engagement, said in response to GHN’s questions on the Greenwood Place situation. “We are coordinating with the Department of Public Health, as well as all other applicable local and state agencies and the Centers for Disease Control. Our team continues to monitor the situation and update procedures.”

Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday said that the state “is starting to see the impact of coronavirus on the medically fragile population, especially in long-term care facilities.”

Kemp added that needed medical supplies are being directed to long-term care facilities, as well as hospitals. He ordered people in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to isolate, quarantine or shelter in place, along with other medically fragile individuals.

As Georgia now has reached 772 COVID-19 cases, at least five long-term care facilities have so far reported the presence of the fast-spreading disease among their residents or employees. The state Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to GHN’s request for information about the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases at long-term care facilities.

Residents at senior care facilities in Canton and Athens have tested positive, and were isolated in their rooms. And an employee of a nursing home in Eastman tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the facility into a lockdown.

Last week, a resident of the PruittHealth – Palmyra nursing home in Albany was confirmed to have died from COVID-19, according to the Dougherty County coroner. The Albany community has had several deaths from the disease.

PruittHealth operates dozens of long-term care facilities in the state.

These incidents follow a string of COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes nationwide – including the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., where roughly three dozen people have died.

The nursing home toll highlights the peril faced by both frontline health workers and residents at such long-term care facilities. The issue is compounded by the fact that people over 80 years old who are infected with COVID-19 face a 21.9 percent mortality rate, according to the World Health Organization.

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