Ten people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died at the River Ridge Living Center in Amsterdam since March, according to a state report released Tuesday, accounting for more than half of the deaths from the virus in Montgomery County.
As coronavirus cases are surging locally, data from the state Department of Health shows nursing homes continue to be where many COVID-19 fatalities occur.
Since March 1, 20 Montgomery County residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have died, with 17 of those deaths occurring within the county’s borders — most of them at River Ridge — according to the DOH. The state also listed one additional death of “presumed positive COVID-19” at River Ridge, and one COVID-19 positive death at St. Johnsville Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
State numbers also report that in Fulton County 13 nursing home residents have died: 11 at the Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare and two at the Nathan Littauer Hospital Nursing Home.
Herkimer County, which borders the western part of Montgomery County, has had seven COVID-19 nursing home deaths, all at the Foltsbrook Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Herkimer.
Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko said that over approximately the last month there have been three new fatal COVID-19 cases at River Ridge and one fatal case at the Edward L. Wilkinson Residential Health Care facility, which is operated by St. Mary’s Memorial Health Center.
The state Health Department’s chart released Tuesday did not list any deaths at Wilkinson. The chart also did not list any COVID-19 positive fatalities attributed to nursing home residents who were taken to hospitals where they then died. State officials have indicated the DOH has an estimated total of nursing home residents who died at hospitals, but that has not yet been released to the public.
Boerenko said there have been clusters of fatal cases that have occurred at River Ridge at different times since the start of the pandemic, but she said that isn’t surprising given the number of residents they serve and the growing community spread of the virus.
“Always with nursing homes it is related to the spread in the population of employees who — with the holidays, with functions — test positive and then the residents end up testing positive — that’s our pattern,” Boerenko said, referring to data the county has collected from tracing the contacts of positive cases.
“So, it’s not like all 11 people died all in one day at one nursing home. That’s a cumulative number over all of our nursing homes,” she said.
However, Boerenko said at least three fatalities have occurred among Montgomery County nursing home residents recently, with all having been moved to other locations before dying: one was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital, one went to Ellis Hospital in Schenectady and one was taken to the person’s home.
River Ridge Administrator Shannon McHale did not return several phone calls Wednesday seeking comment for this story.
A letter from McHale sent to family members of people living at River Ridge on Nov. 20 outlined the COVID-19 situation at the facility.
McHale’s letter said that River Ridge had 19 positive cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 inside the facility’s A Unit, but none in the facility’s B and C units.
“Per DOH recommendation, all residents will be swabbed every 3-7 days until there are 100% negative results for 14 days,” wrote McHale. “In addition to swabs being sent to the lab, we are also using in-house Point of Care testing as an additional measure of surveillance to manage the situation and attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Point of Care test is administered by one of the RN’s on staff here at the facility, yielding results in 15 minutes.”
Since then the number of weekly positive cases in Montgomery County has increased dramatically, with 78 new cases reported by the county Nov. 23, 90 new cases reported Nov. 30 and 128 new cases reported Monday.
“It’s huge. We are seeing numbers like we haven’t seen in the last 270 days,” Boerenko said. “When we had our big spike back in May or June, we thought we were six to eight weeks behind New York city. I think this — what we’re going through now — is our New York City.”
DOH’s COVID-19 Tracker shows Montgomery County had 25 new positive cases Tuesday, five new cases Monday and 22 new cases Sunday. For the last week, Montgomery County’s positivity rate for new tests has ranged between 5.1 and 5.7 percent, according to county officials.
“When I have 39 positive COVID patients in one day, out of less than 50,000 residents,” Boerenko said. “I mean we are scrubbing through 280 to 300 tests per day. It’s just unimaginable what we are facing right now locally.”