ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – Community leaders and activists led a rally Friday near an assisted living facility in the city of South Fulton where 15 residents have died after contracting the coronavirus.
According to the Fulton County Board of Health, the 15 deaths at Arbor Terrace at Cascade make it the largest outbreak of COVID-19 at a long-term care facility in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
“Seven of the 15 who have died my mother knew personally,” said State Sen. Donzella James who represents portions of Fulton and Douglas counties.
James wrote a letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp asking him to close Arbor Terrace at Cascade.
“This place needs to be closed and it needs to become a case study of what not to do,” said community activist Derrick Boazman, a former Atlanta city councilman.
Among the residents of the facility who lost their battle with the virus was prominent urologist Dr. Delutha King who co-founded the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia and the Health First Foundation.
Within hours of returning home from his funeral on Good Friday, King's son Ron Loving and his wife Freda received a devastating call – Ron’s mother, Lois had also died.
The couple – both 96 and married almost 60 years – died from COVID-19.
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The Lovings spoke exclusively to CBS46, and said sadly, their grief is not unique.
“You know, we're not the only people that are very sad today from one facility. There's a list of them,” Freda said.
CBS46 has been reporting on issues at the South Fulton facility since late last month, receiving emails and phone calls from concerned and grieving family members daily.
Dr. Elizabeth Ford, interim health director for Fulton County, said the number of deaths will continue to rise.
According to new numbers released Friday by the Fulton County Board of Health, 49 residents – 78 percent – have tested positive for the virus, along with 31 staff members.
Ford said what’s most troubling is how difficult it has been to detect the illness among residents. The majority of the residents who tested positive showed no symptoms.
"The asymptomatic carrier rate at the facility is extremely high," she said.
Signs of the virus may be harder to see in elderly residents, particularly those with underlying health issues, Ford said.
"You have to think of the state of some seniors in these facilities,” she said. “They may have dementia, so they may not be able to report symptoms, or they may have not picked up on them. If you're an individual who has a chronic cough, you may not be thinking, 'Well I have this cough.'”
Despite the dramatic increase, the facility remains open.
Ford said removing elderly from infected nursing homes, especially those with health issues, puts them at even greater risk for contracting the virus or other illnesses.
“If you put a senior in a long-term care facility, if you relocate them, you also have to identify fresh staff, and a lot of them require very high levels of care,” she said. “And so transporting them in some instances is even a risk.”
Ford said her department continues to monitor the facility and that staff has been given access to protection equipment.
It’s up the facility to ensure staff knows how to use equipment properly.
“Those are practices that most long-term care facilities don't do on a regular basis,” she said. “People who work in long-term care facilities are generally people who like to love up on seniors and touch.”
The Lovings said the Arbor Terrace staff had a supply shortage and failed to communicate the severity of the outbreak to family members.
“One of the problems is nobody has any answers,” Freda said.
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Despite having difficulty breathing, both Emory Midtown and Wellstar hospitals sent Dr. King back to Arbor Terrace.
He died at the facility on April 3.
Ron said he doesn't want his father’s legacy to be overshadowed by the way he died.
“He contributed a lot as far as health care. He was about saving lives,” Ron said.