FILE - Nursing home

A woman in a wheel chair traveling down a nursing home corridor.

(The Center Square) – The latest numbers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) show 61 percent of COVID-19 deaths are linked to long-term care facilities and make up 16 percent of the state’s overall cases.

As of Friday, 527 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in North Carolina, and 323 of those deaths were among people who work or live at nursing homes (279 deaths) or residential care facilities (44 deaths).

NCDHHS publishes data on congregate living facilities on Tuesdays and Fridays.

After legal pressure from local media outlets and advocacy groups, NCDHHS on Friday released the names of the facilities where cases have been identified.

Six local media organizations and a host of national groups had threatened to sue NCDHHS for holding back the information. In an April 23 letter to Gov. Roy Cooper, AARP North Carolina demanded more transparency from the state.

“We urge the state to publicly release the names of nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other residential care facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases among residents or staff,” it wrote. “This transparency is critical for public health and the health and well-being of the residents and staff of these facilities. Moreover, residents and family members deserve to have this information for their own health decisions and as they consider possible next steps and interventions for their loved ones.”

At least one death has been reported at 52 facilities in the state, including one staff member, according to a NCDHSS report. Outbreaks are ongoing in nursing homes in 63 North Carolina counties, and 23 counties have outbreaks in residential facilities.

The biggest outbreak has been linked to The Citadel at Salisbury in Rowan County, where 154 cases have been confirmed and 17 residents have died.

Nursing homes nationwide have been hit especially hard as residents fall into two major at-risk categories: elderly and with underlying medical conditions that compromise their immune systems.

Residential care facilities can include adult-care homes, family-care homes, multiunit assisted housing, group homes and homes for people with intellectual disabilities.

NCDHHS data exclude residential information for 3,942 laboratory confirmed cases and 47 deaths.

Public health officials previously argued releasing the information would be a breach of patient privacy. AARP North Carolina, however, argued patient information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) would not be affected if the information is made public.

“[HIPPA] does not, however, preclude a state health agency from releasing the names of facilities, because those facilities are not a covered entity as defined by the law,” AARP wrote.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.