New death reported at Autumn Care as outbreak there continues to grow

Published 9:01 pm Saturday, August 15, 2020

SALISBURY — An additional resident of Autumn Care has died of COVID-19 as cases there continue to rise.

Two of the 53 reported deaths have been from the Autumn Care facility, with the first reported on Thursday. The average age of deaths remains at 80, as all but 14 deaths have been from congregate care facilities. Saturday’s update reported that nine employees and 32 residents have tested positive at the facility.

That brings the total cases at congregate care facilities to 285. Compass Health in Spencer is the site of the latest nursing home outbreak as one employee and one resident tested positive as of Saturday. And according to the Rowan County Health Department, it’s the only other active congregate living outbreaks, as others have been declared over.

On Friday, Autumn Care’s corporate company, Saber Healthcare Group, provided a statement to the Post regarding the outbreak and recent deaths. Though, it failed to address most of the specific questions the Post asked, including details about when the first case occurred, if responsible parties had been notified, if all residents and staff had been tested and how the facility is mitigating the outbreak.

“The facility acts in the best interest of its residents to promote their health, safety, and welfare during this evolving crises,” said Chief Medical Officer Nancy A. Istenes. “We have worked closely with the Department of Health and continue to follow all necessary guidelines, including any necessary testing and reporting requirements. We have established a personalized care plan for any affected resident and have routinely updated all residents and responsible parties regarding their condition and care.”

A total of 38 cases were added to Rowan County’s total case count on Saturday, bringing the currently positive case total to 320. A total of 1,975 locals have recovered from COVID-19.

Hospitalizations grew by two on Saturday and are now at 19. A total of 162 people have been hospitalized, resulting in an average age of 62.

State data show a total of 143,706 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed after 1.9 million completed tests, bringing the positive test rate to 7%. Hospitalizations across the state improved and are now at 1,032. A total of 2,343 people have died.

Also on Saturday, county health officials reported that scientists have now figured out how COVID-19 causes some people to lose their sense of smell. The loss now seems to be temporary, since the actual cells in the nose that detect smell are now known to be unharmed.

Until now, exactly why people with COVID-19 stop being able to smell was unclear, health officials say. It was thought damage or inflammation of the olfactory sensory neurons that detect and transmit the sense of smell to the brain caused the problem. But researchers have now discovered that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, instead attacks the cells that support those smell-detecting neurons, but not the neurons themselves.

“The novel coronavirus changes the sense of smell in patients not by directly infecting neurons, but by affecting the function of supporting cells,” said Sandeep Robert Datta, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and a co-author on the paper published in the journal in Science Advances.

Datta added that once the infection clears, olfactory neurons don’t appear to need to be replaced or rebuilt from scratch. COVID-19 patients typically recover their sense of smell over the course of several weeks.

In other local statistics:

• The average age among all COVID-19 cases is 42.5, with the plurality of cases among those aged 18-35, at 727. Following that age bracket is the 36-50 age range with 565 cases, along with 427 cases among those aged 51-64 and 388 cases among those older than 65. Cases among children continue to rise and are now at 241.

• Hispanic residents make up more than 28% of all positive cases at 670. More than half the cases are among white residents, at 1,296, along with 314 Black residents, 11 American Indian/Alaskan Native residents, six Asian residents and one Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Of all cases, 370 are considered other and 350 are unknown.

• Women comprise 1,212 of all cases, with men comprising the remaining 1,136 cases.

• Zip code 28147 continues to be the area with the most positive cases at 690, followed by the 28144 area with 483 cases. A total of 399 cases are among zip code 28146, which is the area that Autumn Care of Salisbury is located.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at or call her at 704-797-4246.

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