ITHACA, N.Y.—A COVID-19 cluster at the Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home in Ithaca has claimed the lives of two residents of the facility and has infected 52 people, including 39 residents, according to an email from the facility sent to staff, family and resident representatives.

In total, 13 staff members have tested positive for coronavirus in addition to the 39 residents. No information was immediately available about the condition of the patients, or of the ages of the two deceased residents. These are the second and third deaths of Tompkins County residents since the pandemic began, though they are the first to be connected to a nursing home. The county had previously announced, on Nov. 20, that 10 cases had been found at Oak Hill Manor, but the number has grown quickly since then.

The 52 case cluster constitutes the largest single cluster in Tompkins County since the beginning of the pandemic. The cases were confirmed by an announcement from the Tompkins County Health Department on Saturday afternoon, which said it was confirmed by New York State. Oak Hill Manor has been closed to visitation since Nov. 14.

The daughter of one of the deceased COVID victims told the Ithaca Voice in an interview that her mother had passed away on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26. Her mother had tested positive for the virus as of Monday, Nov. 23. At that point the family was told that the woman was asymptomatic, but by Wednesday she had developed a variety of maladies including a fever, sepsis and potentially pneumonia. Her mother had moved into the facility in August.

Unlike other local COVID-19 situations that are handled by the Tompkins County Health Department, because of the number of infections and that the deaths are taking place in a nursing home, the New York State Department of Health is responsible for the contact tracing investigation and any further measures instituted by Oak Hill Manor, which is on Hudson Street in Ithaca.

“Our thoughts are with the families of those who passed, and with all of those who are battling the disease,” said Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “The spread of COVID-19 at this nursing home shows how quickly the virus is transmitted, and how it can have devastating impacts on older adults and people with pre-existing health concerns.”

An Oak Hill Manor administrator who answered the phone at the facility on Saturday said he would have to direct any questions to “corporate,” then hung up the phone upon further questioning. Oak Hill Manor holds 60 resident beds, though it is unclear how many of them are occupied (though there are at least 39 residents, considering the number of positive tests).

The email sent by Oak Hill Manor, signed by administrator Mark Smith, states that the nursing home is continuing to screen “all residents’ temperature, pulse oxygenation levels and other vital signs daily.” Smith writes that the facility has contacted “Epidemiology at the New York State Department of Health and is working jointly to follow all infection prevention and control measures.” It also claims that CDC recommendations such as health screenings for people entering the building (including for staff), handwashing requirements, infection control strategies and other policies have been implemented at the facility even before the outbreak.

“We want to reassure you that we are taking all necessary steps to protect our patients, employees and our surrounding community,” the email concluded.

Other nursing homes in Tompkins County have certainly seen cases, though any outbreaks at other local facilities have been relatively tame compared to those seen elsewhere in New York State.

The cluster is part of an “unprecedented” spike in cases in Tompkins County over the last week, with 188 cases now active in the county.

“This is an unprecedented spike of cases in Tompkins County. Consistent days of 20 plus new cases puts a strain on our healthcare system and increases the potential for community spread,” Kruppa said. “Our Health Department nurses and County staff are working seven days a week to help stop the spread by identifying and quarantining contacts of positive cases and checking in on those who are in isolation and quarantine.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com