Update: The original version of this story indicated that nursing home positive tests are not included in the Tompkins County Health Department’s daily updates. They are included in those updates, but the contact tracing is handled by the state Department of Health. 

Original Story:

ITHACA, N.Y.—Beechtree Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is grappling with a swath of COVID-19 cases among staff and residents in the facility in downtown Ithaca.

A source in the Beechtree community said during a phone conversation, Beechtree administration had told them that there were 43 residents in the facility who had tested positive for COVID-19 along with 19 staff members, making over 62 positive tests as of the beginning of this week. Blast calls are required to update Beechtree community members each time a positive test is detected.

It’s unclear if any of the infected residents or staff members have been hospitalized as a result of their infections, and it’s unclear how many of the positive cases are still active. The numbers are reported to the state as well as the county, and are included in the Tompkins County Health Department’s daily updates, according to health department officials.

Beechtree Administrator Mark Williams told the Ithaca Voice that it is Beechtree’s policy to report those numbers to the state Department of Health, as is required by the state, but not to release them publicly or to the media—although other nursing homes have done so, he said it would be a violation of medical privacy laws. He suggested contacting the NYS Department of Health, though the Department of Health then directed inquiries on total positive tests back to Beechtree.

The state Department of Health did offer the following statement and confirmed that an unannounced inspection had been conducted at Beechtree on Dec. 30, but the results of that investigation were not yet clear.

“To protect residents and staff from the spread of COVID-19, DOH has been in communication with the leadership at Beechtree Nursing Center,” said Department of Health spokesperson Jeffrey Hammond. “Today, DOH launched an unannounced COVID-19 Focus Infection Control inspection at Beechtree Nursing Center to ensure compliance with infection control practices and CDC-supported guidelines issued by New York State.  As this is an ongoing inspection, we cannot comment further.”

The state handles nursing home contact tracing and investigations once a positive test is reported, not the Tompkins County Health Department. Tompkins County spokesperson Dominick Recckio confirmed that there had been positive tests among Beechtree staff and residents, but that more specific information would come from the state’s tracing.

There has been one death at the facility, but the Tompkins County Health Department has not reported the death during its daily COVID-19 updates—indicating that the county medical examiner did not determine COVID-19 to be the actual cause of death in that case. Beechtree announced on its website that COVID-19 vaccinations for residents and staff will start on Jan. 8, 2021. The facility had previously published guidelines for its reaction to COVID-19 cases.

Beechtree is the latest in a string of senior care facilities that have faced COVID-19 outbreaks. The worst of those has been at Oak Hill Manor, which has resulted in 12 deaths, though Kendal at Ithaca and Bridges Cornell Heights have all also faced positive tests among residents and staff. The Racker Center also reported a death on Dec. 30, and a cluster of cases on Dec. 7. There have now been 14 deaths from the coronavirus in Tompkins County.

Matt Butler

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