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Onondaga County has deadliest day since pandemic started; Nursing home employees to be tested

Onondaga County has given COVID-19 test kits to the Loretto nursing home facilities.

Onondaga County had its deadliest day in the fight against COVID-19. There were five deaths since Wednesday. Their ages ranged from the 50s to 90s. Four were Caucasian and one was African American. That brings the total number of victims to 17. 

Fifty-two people are in the hospital, 20 are in critical condition. The county averages about 19 positive tests per day. The number of people who have recovered rose to 279, but there are still 283 active cases.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said a new test strategy is going to be testing nursing home employees, regardless if they have symptoms. New cases of the coronavirus at nursing homes are driving the numbers up this week. At least one of the five deaths announced Thursday was from a nursing home.

“We know with positive cases in nursing homes, they don’t come from the residents, they come from the employees,” McMahon said. “There’s density there. You can see faster community spread if you get one case. This has been an issue throughout the country, throughout the state.”

The state Health Department is not identifying the nursing homes with positive cases out of privacy concerns.

Out of the 12-13 nursing homes in the county, McMahon said at least three or four have positive cases.

A potential Walmart testing site in East Syracuse could prioritize testing for nursing home employees. It could be up and running with a couple small kits on Friday, ramping up over the weekend.

But McMahon said there is more capacity to do it now. He’s talked to hospitals about doing rapid testing in certain nursing homes. The county’s Adult and Long Term Care team has been reaching out to various nursing homes to get employees tested. McMahon said they are trying to identify employees to get tested.

“We want to get in front of this before this is a real problem,” McMahon said. “Other counties are in a situation where all their cases are nursing home related.”

The county has given test kits to the Loretto nursing home facilities. The state can also come in and do testing. But McMahon said it’s unlikely that other nursing homes are doing their own testing.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.