Kentucky veterans center hit hard by coronavirus surge in state

Twenty-four residents have died due to the outbreak, officials said.

November 13, 2020, 9:16 PM

A veterans center in Kentucky that had managed to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak until last month is now dealing with a devastating outbreak. Two dozen residents at the center have died as the virus surges in the state, officials said.

The Thomson-Hood Veterans Center, one of four state-owned long-term nursing care facilities for veterans in Kentucky, has had 24 residents die due to COVID-19, Gov. Andy Beshear said during a virtual address Friday.

The update came as the state reported its worst day yet during the pandemic, with 3,173 new cases and 25 deaths.

"Like almost every state in America, we are seeing a surge here in Kentucky that is concerning and deadly," Beshear said.

"This amount of community spread continues to hit our more vulnerable, because we are mourning another loss of a veteran from the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center," he later said.

So far, the veterans center has had 86 cases among residents. Five veterans are currently hospitalized, and another nine cases are still active, the governor said. Some 160 veterans live in the center, the Courier Journal reported.

PHOTO: Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Jessamine County, Ky.
Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Jessamine County, Ky.
Google Maps Street View

Among the staff, 63 people have also tested positive, with 11 cases still active, the governor said.

Employees at long-term care facilities are tested upward of twice a week in counties with high rates of transmission, and employees and residents have daily health screenings, officials said. Since March, visitors to the state's veterans centers have been restricted to only families dealing with end-of-life situations. Beshear blamed community spread as the cause of the outbreak.

"Because we, Kentuckians, have failed to stop community spread thus far, we can't keep it out of places like this," he said.

The outbreak started last month, with three veterans and seven staff members testing positive, but it "quickly turned into a larger outbreak," Beshear said during a press briefing earlier this week. On Oct. 21, the state reported that 71 veterans had tested positive and six had died.

To address the outbreak, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided medical staff, and on Oct. 23 the center started daily antigen testing for housekeeping and nursing staff, in addition to its twice-weekly PCR tests, officials said.

By Monday, the state updated the numbers to 85 cases and 22 deaths, as the outbreak appeared to have stabilized with the help of the new testing protocols.

The Thomson-Hood Veterans Center did not return messages left by ABC News. In a Facebook post on Monday, the center said it was "still battling."

"Keep praying for our incredible, warrior staff and our precious veterans," it said. "We are heartbroken over our losses."

Jessamine County, where the center is located, is in the state's "red zone," meaning there are more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. Currently, there are 42.2 cases per 100,000 residents in the county, according to state data, up from 30.4 earlier this week.

Beshear urged residents to follow the red-county recommendations to reduce spread, which include working from home if possible, avoiding dining in restaurants and bars and not hosting any events, and wearing masks to protect themselves and others.

"You must do your part," he said. "We cannot let this escalation continue."

PHOTO: Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 23, 2020.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 23, 2020.
Timothy D. Easley/AP, FILE

The Thomson-Hood Veterans Center also urged the community to take precautions.

"Please wear your masks and make smart, safe choices as you go about your daily lives," it said in its post. "What we do out in the community matters."

Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, are especially vulnerable to the virus. Since May, 40% of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths have originated in these facilities, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

In October, 8.4% of long-term care facility residents nationwide diagnosed with COVID-19 died, about seven times the national rate, the data project found.

"Because a case in a long-term care facility is far more likely to result in death, this explosion in cases is alarming," the project said Wednesday in its weekly update on the state of the pandemic in long-term care facilities.

In Kentucky, nearly 13% of long-term care facility residents who tested positive for the virus have died, based on data in the state's latest long-term care report. Those 1,009 deaths make up more than 60% of all reported COVID-19 deaths statewide.