Coronavirus News: 'Horrific' death toll at NJ nursing home; dozens of confirmed COVID-19 cases

ANDOVER, New Jersey (WABC) -- Andover Rehabilitation in Sussex County has suffered 68 recent deaths, nearly half of them confirmed COVID-19 cases according to county health officials.

"It's horrific," says Congressman Josh Gottheimer.

According to Sussex Co. Dept. of Health, 68 residents have died since the beginning of the year and 33 deaths are due to coronavirus. The cause of deaths for the others is unknown.

Two nurses have also died from COVID-19.

The health department says another 76 residents and 41 staff members have tested positive.

"When they called Saturday they were desperate for body bags," Gottheimer said. "Overall, we need to figure out what went on here. Did they take all the steps necessary upfront for PPE, did they segregate those who are positive."

He pledged there would be "a very deep" investigation.



According to the police, the first clue was the request for 25 body bags on Saturday night. Investigators initially discovered five bodies in the facility's holding area. In subsequent days they were tipped off to a body being stored in a shed.

No body was discovered in the shed, but investigators found another dozen bodies in the holding area.

Gottheimer said the nursing home is the largest in the state with over 500 beds and the focus right is saving lives.

"How do we help the residents there and how do we keep them safe? How do they get the care they need immediately, how do we save as many lives as possible? How do we stop the spread of the virus and how do we get PPE that staffing needs? It's triage mode to help them," he said.

Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center owner Mutty Scheinbaum released the following statement:

"The owners, administrators and our heroic healthcare staff of nurses and nurse aides have been working relentlessly to contain the virus and safeguard our residents and staff. The health and safety of our residents and staff is our utmost priority and responsibility. Ownership and administration is working around the clock to ensure we are able to resolve the pandemic. To clarify previous news reports ,there was a total of 15 bodies in our holding room on April 13th. 8 of them actually expired on April 13th and a total of 13 bodies were removed before midnight and occurred with the assistance of Andover police department."

RELATED: 6 questions to ask if you have a loved one in a nursing home

Family of loved ones are calling for Elizabeth Nursing and Rehab Center to be shut down after 26 people died in recent weeks, at least 12 confirmed to be from COVID 19.

"We have gone out to some of the nursing homes to help correct what are really daunting situations where staff has called in sick or have abandoned the nursing home. and they needed some oversight and extra help," health commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

The state says they're not allowing any more admissions to any of these homes that are under investigation.

More than 3,600 deaths nationwide have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, an alarming rise in just the past two weeks, according to the latest count by The Associated Press.

The numbers are rising fast in New Jersey where more than 5,200 residents of these facilities have tested positive.

That accounts for about ten percent of the state's total long-term care population.

Experts say nursing home deaths may keep climbing because of chronic staffing shortages that have been made worse by the coronavirus crisis, a shortage of protective supplies and a continued lack of available testing.

And the deaths have skyrocketed despite steps taken by the federal government in mid-March to bar visitors, cease all group activities, and require that every worker be screened for fever or respiratory symptoms at every shift.

But an AP report earlier this month found that infections were continuing to find their way into nursing homes because such screenings didn't catch people who were infected but asymptomatic. Several large outbreaks were blamed on such spreaders, including infected health workers who worked at several different nursing home facilities.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who leads the White House coronavirus response, suggested this past week that as more COVID-19 tests become available, nursing homes should be a top priority.

"We need to really ensure that nursing homes have sentinel surveillance. And what do I mean by that? That we're actively testing in nursing homes, both the residents and the workers, at all times," Birx said.

---
With information from The Associated Press

MORE CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 COVERAGE



UPDATES

Grieving the lost: Tri-State residents who have died
New York state
Connecticut
New York City
Long Island



RESOURCES

Where are the testing centers
See how our communities are making a difference
Free educational resources for parents and children
How you can help victims of coronavirus

RELATED INFORMATION
Share your coronavirus story with Eyewitness News

Stimulus check scams and other coronavirus hoaxes
Coronavirus prevention: how clean are your hands?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on coronavirus
Coronavirus cases by NJ county
Copyright © 2020 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.