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Older adults experience higher rates of COVID-19

Nigel Turner, Health Department Director of Communicable Disease
by Nigel Turner04/27/2020 4:05 p.m.
Updated: 04/27/2020

Health Department works with long-term care facilities to limit disease spread. 

Since late January when we shared news that COVID-19 could affect our community, we’ve talked about older adults as a high-risk group. The warnings proved accurate.

About 52% of our positive cases are ages 50 or older among a group that makes up 36% of the county’s population.

Many of our oldest adults live in long-term care facilities and other congregate care settings. These facilities serve vulnerable populations at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Their age and health status puts them at greater risk for severe COVID-19 complications and potential death. COVID-19 can quickly spread in congregate care settings.

The Health Department has expected high numbers of cases and deaths in long-term care facilities. And since February, we have worked with these facilities throughout the county to ensure strong infection control guidance, availability of testing and other measures to identify cases, minimize the spread of disease and protect these vulnerable populations.

Together, we are working actively to prevent, reduce and control infections in these facilities.  

But outbreaks happen in these facilities. And you have asked us to provide more information about the facilities experiencing them.

Closeup photo of an older person's hands

Balancing transparency with patient confidentiality

During the pandemic, we must balance information transparency with our duty to protect confidential patient health information. To strike this balance, we will publish a table identifying the number of positive test results in long-term facilities with 30 or more beds and 10 or more positive test results (patients and staff). We added this table today and will update this table each Wednesday along with other weekly updates.

You may think that you are at lower risk of COVID-19 because you or a loved one do not live in one of these long-term care facilities. Unfortunately, that is not accurate. COVID-19 is widespread in our community. People are exposed to the virus when they come into contact with people—especially when people are close to other people. That’s why we have emphasized social distancing to limit the spread of the disease.

We balance providing data with careful interpretation of those data. Several factors, such as size of facility, number of staff, patient health, increased testing, timing of cases, and other considerations come into play in a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility. We are learning more about this disease every day, and we will share more information about what we learn in the months ahead. We want to ensure we protect the health of all our residents.

Families are concerned about their loved ones. And those who are entrusted to take care of our senior residents have a great responsibility to protect their health and safety. We will continue to prioritize our work with long-term care facilities to help our elders, the medical staff who provide critical care and families during this difficult time.


Nigel Turner, Health Department Director of Communicable Disease

by Nigel Turner

Nigel leads our work to help keep your family safe from communicable diseases.


We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.