By SAMANTHA PERRY

and CHARLES OWENS

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Three residents of the Princeton Health Care Center who contracted COVID-19 have died, but so far health officials have only confirmed one of the three cases as a COVID-19 death.

Dr. Kathy Wides, Mercer County health officer, said the three deaths involved individuals at the nursing home who had contracted COVID-19. She said all three residents of the nursing home died within the past week.

However, only one of the three cases had been ruled a COVID-19 death as of Tuesday afternoon, Wides said.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, a second COVID-19 death was confirmed in Mercer County by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

“DHHR has confirmed the deaths of a 77-year old female from Mercer County, an 87-year old female from Mercer County, and a 60-year old female from Preston County,” Bill J. Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary, said.

“We are deeply saddened by this news, a loss to both the families and our state.”

Crouch didn’t say whether the two Mercer County deaths were affiliated with the nursing home in Princeton.

“There have been two additional deaths, however we do not have an official state sanctioned cause of death yet,” Wides said. “So I cannot say that those two deaths were COVID.”

Wides said the other two patients had underlying medical conditions.

Wides said a death certificate, and official cause of death, for those two cases should be forthcoming in the next couple of days.

Wides said she could not disclose any specific details regarding the three cases due to federal privacy laws.

Messages left by the Daily Telegraph with Stefanie Compton, administrator of the Princeton Health Care Center, have not yet been returned.

The health care center did confirm earlier in the day Tuesday that another seven individuals at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections at the Mercer County nursing home to 42.

The number involves both staff members and residents of the health care center who have tested positive for the virus.

A statement released by the health care center earlier in the day Tuesday said the facility has requested assistance from the West Virginia National Guard for testing purposes. It said the health care center will undergo a fourth round of COVID-19 mass testing on Wednesday and that additional assistance also has been requested from local and state health officials.

“All current residents who are symptomatic and/or confirmed cases are being isolated to specific COVID-19 designated care areas,” the statement said. “Those individuals are being cared for by designated/dedicated staff members. Many who have tested positive have been without symptoms.”

The statement added that the health care center does have travel policies in place.

“We have and continue to have travel policies in effect,” the statement said. “That includes a combination of testing and increased surveillance for COVID related symptoms for staff following vacation time. Individual testing of employees and residents have also been completed when indicated since March. We have and continue to limit our residents outside travel unless the situation is medically necessary.”

The outbreak at the health care center has pushed the total number of COVID-19 cases in Mercer County to 111.

The total number of active virus cases in Mercer County now stands at 75, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. All 75 individuals are supposed to be isolating for a two-week period.

Gov. Jim Justice ordered the West Virginia National Guard to respond to the health care center Monday to assist with the virus response, including testing of residents and employees.

“We are trying in every way we can to suppress this,” Justice said Monday of the Mercer County outbreak.

An earlier COVID-19 death also occurred in Mercer County during the state lockdown period, and it involved a transient who wasn’t a resident of Mercer County. That individual died at Princeton Community Hospital as a result of virus-related complications.

— Contact Samantha Perry at sperry@bdtonline.com. Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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