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Two Hillsborough nursing homes report major outbreaks; 141 people were infected

Local officials and the nursing home operators themselves have released few details about the outbreaks in long-term care facilities in Plant City and Tampa.

Two Hillsborough County long-term care facilities are dealing with major outbreaks of COVID-19 that have infected a total of 141 people.

In Plant City, Community Convalescent Center has 73 confirmed cases. The state reports that 17 staffers and 55 residents —about half of the facility’s 120 bed capacity — were infected, according to the latest state data released Tuesday.

The Bristol at Tampa Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has 68 confirmed cases. The state says 56 residents and 12 staffers were infected at the facility in the University area of Tampa.

The infected residents from both centers were taken to other medical facilities.

Those outbreaks was just some of the grim news reported by the state on Tuesday. It was the second day of the governor’s plan to reopen Florida after a month-long lockdown to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases, and the state announced a record number of new deaths from the novel coronavirus.

There were 113 COVID-19 deaths posted Tuesday, including 11 in the Tampa Bay region. Several were weeks-old deaths counted for the first time. It was the first time Florida has reported more than 100 deaths in a single day during the pandemic, bringing the total death toll to 1,536. Long-term care facilities have been hit hard: 534 deaths, more than a third of Florida’s fatalities, were either residents or staffers.

Related: Florida adds 113 coronavirus deaths, a new one-day record

Information about the latest two nursing home outbreaks in Tampa Bay is scarce, both from Hillsborough County officials and the facilities’ operators.

Two Bristol residents have died of the virus, according to the state. No deaths have been reported at Community Convalescent Center, also known as Community Care Center, at 2202 W Oak Ave.

But the family of Dorothy Reichert, 81, told the Tampa Bay Times that she was a resident there when she was rushed to the hospital with respiratory failure and tested positive for the virus on April 23.

She died on April 30 of COVID-19, according to a medical examiner report.

The family said no one at the nursing home ever contacted them.

“They haven’t called us one bit, didn’t call us and say anything,” said daughter-in-law Mary Reichert. “They knew my mother-in-law had COVID since April 23. I felt like that should be public news — all the other family members in there needed to know.”

This is a file photo of Community Convalescent Center in Plant City which has 73 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  Photo pulled from a video shot on May 6, 2020. The state reports that 17 staffers and 55 residents —about half of the facility’s 120 bed capacity — were infected, according to the latest state data released Tuesday, May 5.
This is a file photo of Community Convalescent Center in Plant City which has 73 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Photo pulled from a video shot on May 6, 2020. The state reports that 17 staffers and 55 residents —about half of the facility’s 120 bed capacity — were infected, according to the latest state data released Tuesday, May 5. [ JAMES BORCHUCK | Times ]

Community Convalescent Center administrator Donna Rogers on Monday sent the Times a statement from April 25 that said the facility was following COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Our trained professionals have created dedicated units to monitor and care for all our residents,” the statement said. “This includes a unit for those who have tested positive for Covid-19, a unit for persons under investigation for COVID-19, as well as a step-down unit and wellness unit for those who are unaffected."

However, the administrator did not answer any specific questions from the Times about her facility’s outbreak. When a reporter pointed out the April 25 statement predates the majority of reported infections, Rogers responded: "That is the only statement I have to send to you.”

Related: Coranavirus was in Florida before we knew it

Plant City Fire Chief David Burnett said the facility used private contractors American Medical and Americare to transport patients to Florida Baptist Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital. They were moved starting Friday through Saturday morning. South Florida Baptist Hospital said it received 31 patients directly from the center. St. Joseph’s Hospital has received 19. It was not known where the other six residents were taken.

Plant City Mayor Rick Lott deferred questions about the response to the outbreak at Community Convalescent Center to health officials, but said he was pleased with the response.

“In a matter of just a couple days, they had employees tested, patients tested and those who needed to be taken to another facility or hospital were out of there in a very short period of time,” he said.

Kevin Watler, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, said the agency has been communicating daily with each facility since the first cases were confirmed. The department is offering testing to all residents and staff at all long-term care facilities and has provided personal protective equipment and safety training, he said.

But he declined to respond to specific questions about the timeline of the outbreak, how the facilities responded and how residents, families and staffers were informed.

The state data on deaths in long-term care facilities, published most recently on May 1, did not report any deaths associated with Community Convalescent Center. The report is only published once a week. Reichert died on April 30, so her death may not have been recorded in time.

“I think the most likely situation is that it just wasn’t captured in that report for last Friday,” said Florida Department of Health spokesperson Alberto Moscoso. “We will have to wait until the next Friday, when the report is available.”

Management of the Bristol, located at at 1818 E Fletcher Ave., did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday. The home has acknowledged the outbreak on its Facebook page but disclosed no details. One post from April 17 chastised the news media for “pry(ing) in every sense of the word on those who need love and understanding.”

The facility announced Friday on Facebook that it would test all its employees, as well as “any resident deemed appropriate.” The next day, the Bristol said it would test all residents.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, who represents the Plant City area, said in a statement that he was briefed on the situation at Community Convalescent Center but deferred comment to city and county officials.

“I’m embarrassed to say I’m not aware of it,” said State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, who represents that district. He said his staff will look into the outbreaks.

County Commission chair Les Miller, who represents the University area, referred questions about the Bristol to health officials.

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I have no idea what’s going on.”

Recent outbreaks in Pinellas nursing homes show how quickly the virus can spread in long-term care facilities — and kill. Freedom Square of Seminole said Tuesday it has now lost 20 lives to the coronavirus, though the Times could only confirm the deaths of 18 residents and one staffer. That day St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor reported the death of a ninth resident.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the medical examiner confirmed Dorothy Reichert died of COVID-19.

Related: Seminole retirement community suffers 20th coronavirus death, facility says

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