National Guard to Help at Gracedale, 1 COVID-19 Death Reported in Hellertown

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As many Pennsylvanians clamor for a four-week-old stay-at-home order to be lifted, the death toll from COVID-19 in Northampton County continues to rise, as evidenced by the fact that the disease has now claimed the life of a Saucon Valley resident.

That news was announced by county executive Lamont McClure in a news release published on the county’s Facebook page Monday; one of several that painted a bleak picture, seemingly at odds with the anger and frustration being shared by thousands of residents in Facebook groups such as Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine.

McClure announced Monday that Northampton County’s death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 80; a death toll that is based on the findings of county coroner Zachary Lysek.

The county’s total differs markedly from the state Department of Health’s tally of 49 victims; apparently as a result of differences in how causes of death are being determined not only in Northampton County, but also in many jurisdictions throughout the state.

In addition to one Hellertown resident, the county reported and categorized the following deaths according to the municipalities in which the victims resided:

  • Bangor borough (1)
  • Bethlehem Township (13)
  • City of Bethlehem, Northampton County portion (3)
  • City of Easton (11)
  • Forks Township (1)
  • Lehigh Township (1)
  • Lower Nazareth Township (2)
  • Nazareth borough (1)
  • Palmer Township (13)
  • Plainfield Township (1)
  • Tatamy (1)
  • Upper Nazareth Township (17)
  • Washington Township (1)
  • Williams Township (3)
  • Wilson (1)

In addition to the county residents listed above, a total of eight residents from outside Northampton County have died from COVID-19 in local facilities, according to the update.

Among the county residents who have died are 19 residents of the county’s nursing home, Gracedale, which has been at the epicenter of an outbreak that has also affected so many staff members that the National Guard has been activated to help run the facility by providing short-term staffing assistance.

On Monday it was also reported that 80 of Gracedale’s nearly 600 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, with eight currently hospitalized due to the disease. Additionally, 26 staff members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with nine now out of quarantine and back at work.

The fact that more than two dozen staff members have tested positive for the disease has no doubt contributed to 716 employee callouts at Gracedale between April 1 and April 23, which the county also reported on Monday.

“The employees who are coming to work every day to care for the residents at Gracedale are heroes,” McClure said in the news release posted about Gracedale. “The employees who are calling out of their shifts in record numbers need to start putting the residents first. We’re grateful to the National Guard for their offer of short-term assistance.”

A number of comments on that post have been critical of the characterization made by McClure of the staff members who have missed work.

“Shame on the county leaders that are publicly calling out employees that have called out,” commented Judy Rush. “You don’t know their circumstances.”

If you had a loved one at home that is immunocompromised, if you are a single parent, if you have elderly loved ones in your home…would you risk bringing it home to them? Would you risk getting ill perhaps dieing leaving your children alone?” she asked.

“The problem is not and has not been with workers even before this pandemic… The problem is the county and management that runs Gracedale,” commented Danyelle Warrick. “Workers are treated like garbage here. And a reminder which is heard from management day in and day out: workers are at will employees and the county has the will constantly to fire good people everyday.”

In a story published by Saucon Source in mid-March, McClure sounded optimistic about the measures that were being taken to help protect Gracedale residents from COVID-19.

“It’s our absolute goal to take as good of care of the folks who are residing at Gracedale as we possibly can,” he said at the time. “We’re taking all measures with respect to cleanliness–we’ve actually doubled and tripled our efforts.”

Monday it was noted that National guardsmen will primarily work with non-COVID-19 patients at Gracedale, and said their mission there should last no longer than 72 hours.

“When the Guard arrives they will spend their first day getting acclimated to the facility and receiving instruction on the proper way of performing tasks in a nursing home,” it indicated. “Guard assistance will include 20 medics to work as CNAs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., eight licensed nurses to work the 3 to 11 p.m. shift and assist with distributing meds, and additional staff to help with delivering food carts, making beds, etc. Guard staff will be focused on the tower building which has the greatest need for help.”

As of Monday Northampton County had a total of 1,834 cases of COVID-19, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which now reports caseload totals by zip code.

In the 18055 zip code that includes Hellertown borough and part of Lower Saucon Township, there were 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. In the 18015 zip code which includes parts of Lower Saucon Township, Upper Saucon Township, Bethlehem city, Salisbury Township and Fountain Hill borough, there were 159 confirmed cases and 12 presumptive positive cases as of Monday.

On April 21 there were 27 confirmed cases in the 18055 zip code, so the data as of Monday reflects a 37 percent increase in the total number in a little less than a week. In the 18015 zip code on April 21 there were 132 confirmed cases. The addition of 27 confirmed cases represents an increase in the total number of cases of about 20 percent.

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