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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Mecklenburg Sees Nursing Home COVID-19 Deaths Drop Faster Than General Population

COVID-19 vaccine dose drawn from a vial at WakeMed Health.
Courtesy Novant Health
The federal government moved in January to quickly vaccine residents of nursing homes.

Mecklenburg County reported Friday that no residents of long-term care facilities died of COVID-19 in the last week.

The county believes that’s the first time that’s happened since the pandemic began nearly a year ago. The health department began tracking deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities separate from so-called “community” deaths in August.

The county’s deputy health director Raynard Washington said he believes the federal government’s early efforts to vaccinate nursing home residents is paying off.

He said deaths are down in the facilities – as well as outbreaks of COVID-19.

The county listed 28 active outbreaks in congregate living facilities Friday. A month ago, there were 62 outbreaks.

“We think (the vaccines are working),” Washington said. “So, if you also look at the number of facilities in outbreak status, we are dropping just as fast as we rose. Which is good news.”

As the number of new coronavirus cases has fallen since mid-January highs, COVID-19 deaths have fallen in Mecklenburg County – and across the nation.

But Mecklenburg nursing home deaths have been declining faster than COVID-19 deaths in the general population.

Over the last four weeks, 13 residents of long-term care facilities in Mecklenburg County died from COVID-19. That includes no deaths in the last week.

During that same period, there were 70 so-called “community deaths” that occurred outside of nursing homes.

In the four weeks before that – in February and January - 70 people died in nursing homes and 118 people died of COVID-19 in the community.

In a four-week period spanning January and December, 52 people died in nursing homes and 77 in the community.

Washington said there have been numerous nursing home residents who have had COVID-19 and then recovered. If they die later of a different cause, he said they are not counted as a COVID-19 death.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services said this week that more than 205,000 vaccines have been given to long-term care staff and residents, and that vaccinations will continue this month.

The state said that most facilities are now safe enough to resume indoor visitations.

Gipson Rumple, the administrator of Best of Care Assisted Living in Kannapolis, said that while the nursing home still requires residents and staff to wear masks and maintain six feet of distance, “life inside is a little bit back to normal.”

“Our activity director is able to do a little more with the residents: movie nights and bingos and things like that,” Rumple said.

Best of Care, like many long-term care facilities in North Carolina, had three vaccination clinics over three months through a partnership between CVS, Walgreens, and the federal government. Rumple said all but one of his facility’s 22 residents were vaccinated along with about 60% of staff members. Rumple hopes that as more people in the state are vaccinated, visitation rules for nursing homes will be further relaxed to allow family members inside for up-close and in-person visits.

“It’s a lot better (right now) than a year ago at this time, when we were looking through windows and sharing cell phones and trying to do FaceTimes and Skype and all of this other stuff,” Rumple said. “It’s a lot better than it was. But obviously, we want to get back to 2019.”

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.