On a day when two new COVID-19 deaths were reported in Polk County — both at elder-care facilities — a new state report shows that there have been 58 cases of the disease associated with Opis Highlands Lake Center in south Lakeland.

The deaths involve women ages 91 and 81 whose cases were first confirmed April 21 and 24 respectively. The Florida Department of Health update that revealed the deaths doesn’t indicate which long-term-care facilities they lived in. But an article in The Ledger ties both cases to Highlands Lake, citing information from the 10th Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Department of Health on Monday started releasing daily updates of the numbers of cases at specific long-term-care facilities around the state. According to today’s report, 46 residents of Highlands Lake Center, 4240 Lakeland Highlands Road, have tested positive and been transferred away from the facility. Twelve staff members of the facility have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the report. There are no positive cases among current residents, according to the report.

Cases have been reported at six other elder-care facilities in Polk, two of them in Lakeland:

  • Consulate Health Care Of Lakeland, 5245 N. Socrum Loop Road, has one current case and one that transferred elsewhere.
  • Lakeland Hills Center, 610 E. Bella Vista Drive, has no current cases and one that transferred elsewhere.
  • Brandywine Health Care Center in Winter Haven has one current case.
  • Merrill Gardens At Championsgate has had two cases among staff members but none among residents.
  • Savannah Court of Bartow has six residents and four staff who tested positive.
  • Spring Haven Retirement Community has one staff member who tested positive and no residents.

The new list does not include cases that are no longer positive, Katie Strickland, a spokeswoman with the Agency for Health Care Administration, told the Tampa Bay Times.

The deaths reported today bring to 11 the number of deaths associated with elder-care facilities in Polk. Ten of the cases involve Highlands Lake, 10th Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner’s Office.. Elder-care cases represent 16.4% of cases in Polk County but 65% of deaths.

High numbers of cases at Highlands Lake Center were first revealed April 20, when Lakeland Regional Health reported 35 residents had been taken by ambulance to the hospital the previous weekend and at least 29 of them had tested positive for COVID-19 with the rests of the tests pending.

Highlands Lake is part of the 33813 ZIP code, where the number of confirmed cases stands at 79, by far the highest in Polk County. It’s not clear whether the nursing home’s staffers are included in that number, but Highlands Lakes could account for as many as 58 of those 79.

A Tampa Bay Times listing of the elder-care facilities in the Tampa Bay area with the most cases puts Highlands Lake behind three others: Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation and Nursing Services in Pinellas (73), Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center (70) and Braden River Rehabilitation Center (64) in Manatee.

In the most recent round of testing at Highlands Lake, 46 of 56 residents tested showed positive results for COVID-19 and 10 of 33 staff members showed positive results, according to a chart on the parent company’s website.

In Facebook comments reacting to this article, several people praised Highlands Lake as one of the best elder-care facilities in Lakeland.

“Highlands is also one of the larger facilities in the state, allowing more opportunity for higher numbers,” said Katia Perrone, who said she is a former employee of Opis’ corporate office in Tampa and “they do their very best to keep everyone safe and have multiple awards for their standard of care.”

Overall numbers

Tuesday morning’s totals compared with the previous day:

  • Polk confirmed cases: 457, an increase of 16
  • Lakeland confirmed cases: 188, an increase of 5
  • Polk deaths: 20, an increase of two
  • Polk hospitalizations: 123, unchanged

The numbers of confirmed cases and hospitalizations are cumulative and do not reflect how many people have recovered or have been released from the hospital.

Testing in Polk

  • Total tested: 7,005, an increase of 195 over the previous day
  • Positive: 457, an increase of 16
  • Negative: 6,540
  • Inconclusive: 2
  • Await results: 6

Long-term care facilities

  • Cases involving Polk facilities: 75 were reported today, up eight from two days ago.
  • Deaths involving Polk facilities: 11, an increase of 2
  • Number of Polk facilities with reported cases: 7 | List

The number of positive cases is likely 10 times the official number, Polk County Health Department Director Joy Jackson told city commissioners recently. Those who test positive now probably contracted the disease two to three weeks ago, given the time it takes for symptoms to show and test results to be processed.

In addition, the numbers of people being tested remains tiny compared with Polk County’s estimated population of 708,000 people. A shortage of test kits means only people who meet CDC criteria are being tested.

New Polk County data

Along with the change of release times, the Florida Department of Health is releasing a new county-by-county series of charts. Here are today’s:

Click the image to view a larger version
Click the image to view a larger version

ZIP Codes

Cases in Lakeland ZIP codes:

33801: 10, unchanged
33803: 14, an increase of 1
33805: 32, an increase of 2
33809: 14, unchanged
33810: 15, unchanged
33811: 1 to 4
33812: 5, unchanged
33813: 79, unchanged
33815: 7, unchanged

View an interactive ZIP code map here. To find local ZIP code data, click on the “Cases by Zip Code” tab below the map and then scroll to Polk and click. Learn how ZIP code data is reported.

Cases in Polk cities

  • Lakeland, 188
  • Winter Haven, 70
  • Davenport, 51
  • Kissimmee, 34*
  • Lake Wales, 19
  • Bartow, 18
  • Auburndale, 15
  • Haines City, 11
  • Mulberry, 10
  • Fort Meade, 8
  • Lake Alfred, 5
  • Frostproof, 4
  • Poinciana, 4
  • Eagle Lake, 2
  • Wahneta, 2
  • Kathleen, 1
  • Babson Park, 1
  • Bradley, 1
  • Champions Gate, 1
  • Cypress Gardens, 1
  • Dundee, 1
  • Indian Lakes Estates, 1
  • Polk City, 1
  • No city named, 1

* While Kissimmee is in Osceola County, the Health Department classifies a portion of east Polk as Kissimmee. It maintains a separate number for the Osceola portion of Kissimmee.

Download the full Florida report released Tuesday.

Tracking the cases

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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