A Georgia National Guard infection control team member works in a long-term care facility in Savannah.

Across the state, nursing and assisted living homes have borne a large share of the novel coronavirus pandemic's assault on Georgia this spring, including a facility in Canton.

According to state officials, 8,525 of Georgia's total of 45,572 coronavirus infections - 18.7 percent - have occurred in long-term care facilities among both residents and staff. There have been 959 deaths of nursing and assisted living home residents across the state as of Friday afternoon, according to the state Department of Community Health.

Nearly a third of Cherokee County's 32 deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred at Canton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 321 Hospital Road, with two more deaths reported this week for a total of 10 at the facility, according to state reports. According to DCH, 47 residents have tested positive for coronavirus infection. Thirty four staff members have also tested positive.

The virus first hit Canton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on March 21 and infected both residents and staff simultaneously, according to CEO Scott Shaw, whose father built the facility in 1988. It has not been determined how the infections started, he said.

Both DCH and the Department of Public Health assisted Canton Nursing and Rehabilitation in fighting the outbreak, Shaw said Friday. 

"DCH and DPH have been very supportive through this period. They have sent guidance on nearly a daily basis. Tammy Bowling at DPH has been exceptionally helpful," Shaw said. "DPH/DCH has provided supplemental nurses for us to help us through the crisis. They have been extremely beneficial to our residents during this time. Many of them have stated how much they have enjoyed being here and wished we were able to extend the contract."

The outbreak at Canton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has diminished since its height. By May 18, 20 residents and 21 staff had recovered, according to a social media post.

"As of today, we have two residents on isolation and three employees out with the virus. Yes, the worst is behind us," Shaw said Friday. "Before the pandemic our average census was 85. Right now it is 65. We have begun admitting new residents this week using our best practices that we have learned on the ground over the past three months."

There have been a total of five other deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Cherokee County nursing or personal care homes, according to DCH:

- Three people have died from the disease at Benton House personal care home in Woodstock, where 10 residents have tested positive for infection, as have 10 staff members, according to DCH;

- There have been a single death each from COVID-19 at Legacy Ridge on Neese Road, and The Retreat at Canton, where some of the state's first cases of infection were reported.

During the pandemic, the Georgia National Guard has provided assistance to nursing homes and assisted living facilities across Georgia in the form of infection control teams.

"Georgia National Guard Infection Control Teams have disinfected a total of 729 facilities statewide, 21 of which are in Cherokee County. Over 730 Georgia Guardsmen comprise these ICTs," spokeswoman Desiree Bamba said in an email Friday. "Our infection control teams have visited several long term care facilities more than once."

Statewide there have been 37 long-term care facilities that have experience 10 or more deaths. The highest total for any one facility is 31 at a facility in Butts County, according to DCH reports.

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Managing Editor

Gary Tanner is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune, Cherokee Ledger-News and Cherokee Life magazine. He has been working as a journalist since 1985.

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