Five more residents have died of complications from COVID-19, bringing the pandemic’s local death toll to 223.
The latest deaths were announced Thursday by the Moore County Health Department. Matt Garner, public information officer for the department, said one of the deceased individuals was a man in the “25 to 49 age group,” making him one of only five residents younger than 50 to perish since the start of the pandemic.
He was the first of three residents to die this month. A woman in the “50 to 64 age group” died last Friday, and a woman in the “65 to 74 age group” died Saturday, according to Garner.
Fatal infections are typically announced in batches by the health department, and it can take several days before a death is publicly confirmed by the agency.
Garner said the two other deaths announced Thursday involve a man in the “50 to 64 age group” who died Aug. 29 and a woman older than 75 who died on Aug. 21. August was the third deadliest month of the pandemic in Moore County, with 30 lives claimed by COVID-19.
More people in the county died of COVID-19 in August than during the previous six months combined, an uptick fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus. North Carolina surpassed 15,000 deaths this week, a grim milestone that seemed remote when summer began.
“Sadly, most all of the COVID deaths that are now occurring are preventable with a safe, easy, free vaccine, and I want to thank the millions of North Carolina residents who have stepped up to get one,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during a news conference on Thursday. “But we need more people to get vaccinated. How many more people have to get sick and die because people don’t get this miraculous, God-given, effective and extraordinarily safe vaccine? How many more people will have to witness the painful, cruel death of a loved one to finally see that vaccines are the way out of this?”
Data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services showed that 49 percent of the county’s population was fully vaccinated as of Thursday. Fifty-three percent of the county’s population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to DHHS.
Of the more than 11,760 infections recorded by the local health department since the start of the pandemic, about 1.8 percent have been fatal.
Outbreak at the Greens
A Pinehurst nursing home is currently experiencing its fourth coronavirus outbreak.
Karen Koenig, a nurse with the Moore County Health Department, said that two employees of The Greens, a 120-bed facility on Rattlesnake Trail, recently tested positive for COVID-19. An outbreak is defined by DHHS as two or more active infections in a congregate living setting.
Nearly 120 infections and 15 deaths are linked to previous outbreaks at The Greens. The facility is now tied with Peak Resources Pinelake, a nursing home in Carthage, for the most outbreaks recorded at a local long-term care community.
Like The Greens, Peak Resources Pinelake is currently dealing with its fourth outbreak. Nineteen of the nursing home’s elderly residents died of complications from COVID-19 last year in what remains the deadliest outbreak to date in Moore County.
Other facilities with active outbreaks include:
• Magnolia Gardens, an assisted living community in Southern Pines where two employees and six residents recently tested positive. This is the facility’s second outbreak.
• Pinehurst Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home where three staff members and four residents recently tested positive, and where a resident recently died. This is the facility’s third outbreak.
• Quail Haven Village, a Pinehurst nursing home where five workers and six residents recently tested positive, and where three residents recently died. This is the facility’s third outbreak.
Every nursing home and assisted living community in the county has suffered at least one outbreak since April 2020. An outbreak is considered to be concluded after a facility goes 28 days with no new infections.
Nearly half of the county’s deaths are linked to outbreaks in long-term care settings. Still, only a handful of the area’s nursing homes require their employees to get vaccinated.
The majority of workers at most local nursing homes remain unvaccinated, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Vaccination data for the week ending Aug. 29 showed that Pinehurst Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center had the fewest immunized staff members. Only 27 percent of the facility’s staff were vaccinated.
At the same time, the data showed that the majority of the county’s nursing home residents were vaccinated. Pinehurst Healthcare and Accordius Health at Aberdeen were tied for the lowest percentage of vaccinated residents at 80 percent; Peak Resources Pinelake had the highest percentage at 97 percent.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday that a yet-to-be-enacted vaccination requirement for nursing home employees will be “expanded to include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings and home health agencies, among others, as a condition for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.” An interim final rule on the mandate is expected to be issued in October.
The policy will affect FirstHealth of the Carolinas, the county’s largest private employer. FirstHealth does not currenty require its employees to get vaccinated, making the company an outlier among other North Carolina-based hospital systems.
On Thursday, FirstHealth reported that 85 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across its multi-county system. Thirteen of those patients were in intensive care units and four were attached to ventilators.