There are 56 positive cases of COVID-19 in just a half square mile in West Allis. That's according to the Milwakee County’s COVID-19 Dashboard on Wednesday. This small area near Wisconsin State Fair Park is reporting the highest number of cases for a census tract in all of Milwaukee County.
The Allis Care Center nursing home is located in the affected area. Two weeks ago, a resident at the facility died of COVID-19. The center confirms that there are more cases of the coronavirus, but refuses to disclose the exact number.
In a statement, Allis Care said, “We continue to work with the local, state, and federal entities following all reporting guidelines for related changes of COVID-19 numbers of residents. To protect the privacy of our residents and their families, we will not be releasing any additional details.”
Allis Care went on to say that residents remain in their rooms except for medically necessary purposes. According to a Medicare.gov report, Allis Care has about 120 residents and a one-star health inspection rating.
West Allis Health Department confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at a facility in West Allis, but refused to name it. In a statement, the health department said, “There is community spread in a particular facility. With this understanding, disclosing the details of the facility does not serve to protect the public and that the privacy and confidentiality of the impacted individuals at this facility need to be respected and maintained.”
Allis Care is one of 16 long-term care facilities run by private company Exceptional Living Center, headquartered in Lexington, KY.
During a news briefing with Milwaukee County and city leaders Wednesday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett weighed in on the issue saying long-term care facilities do have a responsibility to disclose the number of positive COVID-19 cases in their facilities to the public.
“I think that there is an obligation to have that. It is my personal belief, and others may disagree, is that I think that during a pandemic I think people should know that. And I think you can do that while protecting the privacy of individuals," Barrett said.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele also responded by saying he agrees, but also respects HIPAA and the importance of privacy as much as the importance of data.
North Shore Health Department Director Ann Christiansen spoke on the role of public health: “With regard to long-term care notifications, so when we are notified of positive cases, we do work with the facilities to notify families just not just in a COVID situation, but any kind of communicable disease so families are notified, in this case on an individual level.”
What is still unclear is whether or not, all residents at the facility are being notified about the number of cases and if Allis Care Center is facing a real-time COVID-19 outbreak. This comes at a time when it is impossible for family members to visit facilities, since they've been locked down for weeks and could remain that way for many more.
Do you have a family member or know someone living at the Allis Care Center? If so, WUWM's Angelina Mosher Salazar would like to hear from you. Reach out to her at email@example.com.
During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.