While the number of Maricopa County deaths due to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities has spiked over the last two weeks, county health officials refuse to provide names of the facilities that have had deaths and coronavirus positive tests.
Since April 11, of the county’s 88 COVID-19 deaths, 63 (72%) were long-term care facility residents, according to data provided by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
The Peoria Times asked Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County’s medical director of public health, to provide the names of long-term facilities with exposures.
“We consider that confidential and have no intention of releasing that data,” Sunenshine answered during an April 23 webinar that focused on personal protective equipment and contact tracing.
“We strongly encourage long-term care facilities to communicate with residents and relatives,” she added.
The West Valley View confirmed last month that James King, whose family said he was exposed to the coronavirus at the Groves, a Goodyear senior community that offers independent and assisted living, died of COVID-19 March 29. At that time, five people died of COVID-19 in the county.
Mark King said he has been in touch with other residents of the Groves since his father passed away. “No one else there has got it,” Mark King said.
On April 11, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health reported 29 long-term facilities had COVID-19 cases, with 156 residents testing positive. Of those, 52 had been hospitalized and 20 died of COVID-19—43% of the 47 county residents who died of the disease at that time.
Two weeks later, the county reported 88 long-term care facilities reported at least one positive COVID-19 case, with 455 residents testing positive. Of those, 126 were hospitalized and 73 died of the disease.
The 73 deaths represented 60% of the county’s 120 deaths.
“We expect the majority of deaths to be 65 and older. … A lot of those are residents of long-term facilities, which is the reason we have gone out of our way to reach out to all long-term facilities,” Sunenshine said. “We know those residents are at the highest risk.
“With the vast majority of facilities, we’ve been able to keep to one or two (COVID-19) cases, but there are some cases where we’ve seen a lot of spread, and tragically that is why we are seeing this increase in deaths,” she added.
In the county, 3,123 people have tested positive for COVID-19 as of April 24. Sunenshine said each of the positive cases has been contacted, as part of “contact tracing.”
She said once a lab sends a positive result to the state’s reporting system, one of 25 AZDHS investigators calls the person who tested positive.
She said investigators ask people who tested positive for a list of people they spent 10 minutes or more with within 6 feet for up to 48 hours before they tested.
“This interview can take one to three hours,” Sunenshine said. “Investigators are part public health (representatives), part detective and part social worker.”
After initial interviews, investigators then reach out to contact lists to explain risks while maintaining confidentiality of the people who tested positive, Sunenshine said.
She said the county plans to hire more investigators, as the number of positive tests—and tests in general—is expected to rise over the next month.
Robert Rowley, the county director of Emergency Management, said Maricopa County has distributed 65,800 N95 respirators, 149,450 surgical masks, 29,813 face shields, 82,025 surgical gowns and 180,618 gloves to hospitals, first responders and long-term facilities.
He said gowns are running short. “We’re down to just a few days’ supply.”
Rowley said the county is accepting personal protective equipment donations, which can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1645 E. Roosevelt Street, Phoenix.