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Essex Center says it’s COVID-free; 3 residents remain hospitalized

An Elizabethtown nursing home that contended with Essex County’s most deadly outbreak of COVID-19 to date announced this week that the facility now has zero active cases of the disease.

Three of its residents remain hospitalized with COVID-19, but the Essex Center property is now COVID-free, county officials confirmed.

Sixteen COVID-19 positive residents of the Essex Center nursing home and rehabilitation facility have died in the last 52 days.

The Bronx-based organization that operates the Essex Center, Centers Health Care, posted on its website on Thursday that the facility has seen 60 in-house residents and staff test positive for COVID-19 since May 8. The impact of the outbreak has been much broader than that, according to data from the Essex County Health Department.

Altogether, since the first confirmed case there on Aug. 17, the coronavirus has spread to 110 people connected to the facility, including 60 residents, 38 staff members and 12 close contacts of staff, according to the county Health Department.

Despite the three COVID-positive Essex Center residents who remain hospitalized, the county Health Department confirmed the nursing home’s announcement this week.

“Based on concurrence from (New York State Department of Health), we agree with Essex Center’s statement that they are COVID-free,” county Health Department spokeswoman Andrea Whitmarsh said Thursday.

“Cautiously optimistic”

Centers Health Care spokesman Jeff Jacomowitz told the Press-Republican on Wednesday that the facility remains “cautiously optimistic.”

“We will continue, of course, to keep up the front door screening process just as diligent as we need to be, which helped getting us to the zero mark,” he said. “In addition to the strict screening at the door, facility-wide testing continues.”

Jacomowitz said the facility is prepared for “a second wave of the virus.”

“Essex Center is prepared in case of a second wave of the virus, having a strong flow of (personal protective equipment) for our staff,” he told the Press. “There is no letting up on keeping everyone healthy and safe, that includes both our residents and staff. This has always been our top priority during this pandemic.”

Jacomowitz said he thinks of the residents who have died, and their families, every day — and he’s grateful for those who have recovered.

Testing

The outbreak at Essex Center was first discovered when a series of events unfolded in quick succession, all on Aug. 17.

On that day, the nursing home received positive test results for three of its employees. Those employees were tested as part of the facility’s state-mandated weekly testing regime, but these tests had been administered on July 28 and July 29 — the positive results took upward of 19 days to get back. In the meantime, the employees had reported to work as usual because they didn’t have symptoms, according to Grace Pfordresher, regional director of Centers Health Care. That same day brought the facility’s first resident death from COVID-19, and the discovery that the residents’ roommate also had symptoms of COVID-19.

Pfordresher said in August that before that death, no residents of the nursing home were exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Last month, Essex Center announced that it would move most of its COVID-19 testing in house in an effort to improve turnaround times.

Since Aug. 17, the number of COVID-19 cases countywide has more than doubled, from 85 on Aug. 17 to 211 as of Thursday. Not all of those cases were connected to the nursing home.

The number of active cases of COVID-19 countywide was four as of Thursday.

Beyond Essex County

Neighboring Franklin County had three active cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, no change from Wednesday, according to county Manager Donna Kissane.

A total of 39 people in 32 locations across the county are currently either in isolation or quarantine.

As of Wednesday, the North Country region had a 0.7% positive rate — of 1,673 COVID-19 tests processed from the region, 11 came back positive, according to the state Department of Health. That’s up from the region’s 0.1% positivity rate on Tuesday.

A record number of COVID-19 tests — 145,811 — were processed across the state on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday. The statewide positivity rate was 1.26%.

The state continues to monitor coronavirus hot spots in four downstate counties: Kings (Brooklyn), Orange, Queens and Rockland. From those counties, 7,349 tests were processed Wednesday and 426, or 5.8%, came back positive.

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