Second patient at NC State Veterans Home in Salisbury dies from COVID-19

SALISBURY, N.C. — Channel 9 confirmed Friday a second resident at the North Carolina State Veterans Home in Salisbury has died of the coronavirus, and five other patients have tested positive.

The first death at the facility due to COVID-19 was reported Saturday, officials said. Officials have not released any other information about the cases.

The two veterans are now among more than 70 people who have died in North Carolina.

Channel 9′s Mark Becker spoke to a woman who is worried about her father, other veterans and those who are caring for them at the facility.

Kendra Johnson said her father, Thomas Johnson, just turned 70 and his kidney are failing.

“By his age, his being in that facility, the dialysis, his race now we’re learning ... he’s at higher medical risk,” said Johnson.

The six additional cases in less than a week were enough for Rowan County officials to declare an outbreak of COVID-19 at the veterans’ home.

A spokesperson for the veterans’ home said they had already tested 14 more residents and are not testing everyone for the virus.

Johnson is waiting to see what her father’s test will show, and she and her family are praying.

“My father’s amazing. We love him. We are praying that he’s fine, that he gets through this, that everyone there gets through this fine,” said Johnson.

The home is on the campus of the VA Medical Center. It said the center is operating on an “Alert Code Red.”

This means enhanced cleaning, no group activities and no visitation.

Statewide, 74 people have died from the virus. As of Friday, there are more than 3,900 cases in North Carolina and more than 57,600 people have been tested.

Reporter Mark Becker has been in touch with people familiar with the case and has been told the first veteran who died had returned to the home and allowed near a roommate after he was initially taken to the hospital, despite all the screening at the VA.

Channel 9 learned Wednesday the man was also around other patients and allowed in other areas throughout the facility.

The Veterans Home is a separate operation, but everyone goes through the same protocol, which is why this case is raising concerns.

The parent company for the Veterans Home, PruittHealth, sent a statement to Channel 9:

“PruittHealth follows closely the guidance from public health officials. When employees and residents are in contact with someone who tests presumptive positive for COVID-19, they are notified and it is recommended they contact a physician and self-quarantine. Employees who self-quarantine receive pay."

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On March 27, sources said the patient, who was in his 60s, was allowed to leave to attend a family funeral. He got sick, and last Tuesday was taken to a hospital in Winston-Salem, where he was diagnosed with advanced stages of lung cancer.

On Wednesday, he came back to the Veterans Home and placed back in with a roommate, even though he had a fever and cough.

On Thursday he was placed in isolation.

On Friday he was tested for COVID-19 and on Saturday morning he died.

Those test results, which came back on Monday, confirmed he had the virus.

“When we typically get positive test results, our communicable disease nurses then start investigations,” said Rowan County Health Director, Nina Oliver.

Oliver said they are trying to track whom that patient had contact with, both at the Veterans Home and at the funeral he attended.

“That's one of the steps we would find out through our investigation and figure out what to do with the others at the funeral,” Oliver said.

Sources told Channel 9 three other residents were tested at the time. One of them has since died of unrelated causes while the two others, including the roommate, are in quarantine.

The parent company for the Veterans Home released a statement saying:

“Salisbury continues to operate at an alert code red status and has been strictly following enhanced infection disease protocols, including increasing cleaning frequency, postponing communal activities, ceasing visitation, screening staff and patients daily.”

They did not want to comment on the timeline, or why that patient was allowed back in with a roommate after he showed symptoms.