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Health, Science, Environment

Nursing Home Residents Make Up Nearly Two-Thirds Of All COVID-19 Deaths In St. Louis County

Delmar Gardens of Chesterfield's building on May 22, 2020.
File photo / Eli Chen
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St. Louis Public Radio
The coronavirus has spread to 81 long-term care facilities in St. Louis County and infected 1,798 residents since March, according to data from the county health department. At least 38 residents tested positive for the coronavirus at Delmar Gardens of Chesterfield, shown here.

Nearly 1,800 residents in St. Louis County long-term care facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus since March, according to the county health department.

At least 416 have died, accounting for about 65% of the total COVID-19 deaths in the county.

The coronavirus has spread to 81 long-term care facilities across St. Louis County, the county's Department of Public Health reported Tuesday.

Roughly half of the nursing homes and residential care centers listed have had 10 or fewer residents infected with the coronavirus. But the county data show a number of facilities with high numbers of coronavirus cases, including Delmar Gardens North in Florissant and NHC HealthCare in Maryland Heights.

The coronavirus has had a “devastating impact” on residents in nursing facilities, said Christopher Ave, spokesperson for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

“We had an explosion of cases and deaths in long-term care facilities early in the pandemic,” Ave said. “In May, we had 674 new cases of COVID-19 among residents of long-term care facilities and in July, we had 130 cases. But we can't relax; we have to focus on keeping our most vulnerable residents safe.”

COVID-19 deaths in St. Louis County nursing homes have also declined, from 202 deaths in May to 11 in July.

Under current county rules, staff at long-term care facilities must undergo daily health screenings and wear masks. Facilities are also required to report coronavirus test results and COVID-19 deaths to the county health department within 24 hours.

“Our responsibility is to engage aggressively with all of our long-term care facilities to make sure that they're absolutely on the cutting edge of best practices to reduce the spread,” Ave said.

Tracking coronavirus cases

Despite these precautions, families with loved ones in nursing facilities are worried, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of Voyce, a St. Louis-area nonprofit that advocates for long-term care residents.

“[They] want to understand, is my family member safe?” she said. “Some facilities are starting to do a really great job about communicating with families and others not so much. A lot of it just depends on staffing at that facility.”

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare now requires nursing homes to notify families when a resident tests positive for the coronavirus.

Still, in many cases, Moore said, it has been difficult for families to track coronavirus cases at individual long-term care facilities in Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services does not report data on the number of coronavirus infections or COVID-19 deaths inside long-term care facilities. Instead, the state reports the total number of facilities with at least one infected resident by county.

According to DHSS, 103 facilities in St. Louis County have had at least one coronavirus infection. The city of St. Louis has had 23 care facilities with one or more cases, while Jefferson County and St. Charles County have had 10 and 29 facilities with infections, respectively.

The coronavirus will continue to infiltrate nursing homes, Moore said, and knowing which have higher caseloads can help “mobilize our community to do more for these facilities.”

“These numbers help us and help other community organizations focus our efforts to make sure that the residents that need it most are getting that extra support,” she said.

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