Nearly 1,000 positive cases, 14 deaths associated with Tennessee programs for people with disabilities

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

The toll COVID-19 has taken on people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in Tennessee continues to climb: there are now 14 people dead and 333 more who have tested positive for the virus among the people served by state programs.

The men and women are among about 12,000 served by public programs overseen by the state’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities that are designed to help adults live as independently as possible.

While some individuals remain at home with parents or others as caregivers aided by outside help, others live in privately-operated group homes with staff assistance. The most medically fragile individuals live in nursing homes with round-the-clock care.

About 650 staff members who care for these individuals have also tested positive, according to state data.

Tennessee Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities
Tennessee Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities

Among those who died were four women and ten men. Two individuals who died lived at the same address, where a total of four residents and at least five staff also tested positive for the virus.

Ten of the victims who died were over the age of 60.

In mid-May Gov. Bill Lee announced plans to provide testing to the 12,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities, defined as possessing an IQ of 70 or less, and developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, served by state programs. Thus far, 5,074 have been tested — a process that requires the consent of the individual legal guardian. 

The state typically contracts with private agencies to provide residential and other services to people in its programs, although it directly operates several long term care facilities.

Privacy rules prevent the state from releasing the names of facilities in which positive tests or fatalities have occurred, according to spokeswoman Cara Kumari.

The state requires private agencies to report all positive tests for staff and individuals served in no more than four hours after receiving results.

The department tracks contacts with housemates and staff who have worked inside the home. Private agencies who care for individuals are expected to follow quarantine protocols.