MACHIAS — Three employees of the Pines Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Machias have tested positive for COVID-19.

The employees, a registered nurse and two certified nursing assistants, had close or direct contact with 55 residents, representing almost half of the 120-bed facility, according to Kelly Reed, the county’s nursing home administrator.

The three cases led to testing of all residents at the Cattaraugus County-owned nursing home. No residents are currently showing any coronavirus symptoms.

Test results of 380 employees from the Machias facility as well as the Olean Pines are incomplete. No positive COVID-19 tests from the recent tests of Olean Pines employees have been recorded. It’s not clear when Olean Pines residents will be tested.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week ordered twice-a-week testing of nursing home employees, but didn’t address who would pay the costs. Later, he said insurance companies would pay for the testing.

COVID-19 has had devastating effects in many nursing homes across the state, leading to more than 5,300 deaths — close to one-fourth of the state’s more than 23,000 total deaths.

Nursing homes across the state have expressed concern over the cost of testing, and on Wednesday Cattaraugus County Legislature Finance Committee Chairman Andrew Burr, R-Gowanda, said he would submit a resolution opposing the governor’s order, which would cost the county $75,000 a week.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Lakewood, called earlier this week for Cuomo to help nursing homes in meeting the testing requirement, noting that test kits in that volume are simply not available in many regions of the state.

Democratic congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano also took up the topic of support for staff of nursing homes. In her weekly media call, Mitrano said it needs to be easier for nursing home staff to comply with increased testing requirements and other rule changes.

The three county employees plus another healthcare worker from the northwest part of the county, who also had positive COVID-19 test results, boosted the number of county residents confirmed with COVID-19 to 59.

Dr. Kevin Watkins, county public health director, said none of the three had any coronavirus symptoms and continued to show up for work. More than a one-third of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

Watkins said the nursing home residents have been isolated in their rooms for more than two months. They have been served meals in their rooms rather than in congregate dining rooms and they haven’t congregated in common areas of the nursing home since March 16.

Also, there has been no in-person visitation since then. Until a few weeks ago, nursing home residents kept in touch with family and friends by telephone and Skype, a video conference.

A viewing window with reservations for blocks of time has also begun in both county nursing homes.

The tests of the Machias Pines employees were submitted on Monday and Tuesday, Watkins said. They continued to work until the results were received Friday morning.

All three have been quarantined and additional contact tracing is underway to notify people who they may have come in close contact with, Watkins said.

Those who have come in direct contact with the three employees will be isolated within the nursing home. Employees who come in contact with the 55 residents the three came in close contact with will be required to use enhanced personal protective equipment including gowns, gloves, N95 masks and in some cases, face shields and booties.

The three Pines employees worked on different shifts and floors and were perplexed that they tested positive for COVID-19, Watkins said.

“They said they were all very careful,” he added.

Watkins said additional personal protective equipment has been shipped to the nursing homes and the state has promised stepped-up deliveries of PPE directly to the nursing homes.

Watkins said nursing home employees temperatures are scanned daily before they are allowed inside the facilities.

“They (county nursing homes) have done the right things to present the spread of the coronavirus,” Watkins said.

Of the county’s 59 COVID-19 cases, 40 have recovered and there are currently 17 active cases, according to Watkins. Two residents with confirmed COVID-19 have died.

There are currently 68 residents in quarantine. Of the 3,091 coronavirus tests administered in the county, 2,840 have returned negative.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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