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COVID-19 clusters discovered at Hamilton County nursing homes

Woman wants to know why brother died
Donald Tobias Gazaway.jpg
Posted at 10:17 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-02 09:55:12-04

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

CINCINNATI - Three days after moving here from Florida, 60-year-old Donald Tobias Gazaway suffered a stroke.

A short time later, he died of COVID-19 at a nursing home where he went for rehab.

His sister wants answers.

"My brother's walking one week, the next week he has a spike in temperature and few days later he's dead?” said Joy Gazaway.

She said she’s not blaming Pleasant Ridge Care Center.

“I'm not blaming the home. The disease is to blame," Joy Gazaway said.

But nursing homes and assisted-living facilities can be incubators for COVID-19. Cincinnati nursing homes reported four new clusters of patients and staff with coronavirus in the last week.

Coronavirus has killed almost 1,000 people in Ohio. One in four lived or worked in assisted living or nursing homes.

Hamilton County has had 11 such deaths - a fraction of what’s in Toledo, Columbus and Cleveland. But stats show clusters of infections in Hamilton County.

In the last week, Mercy West Park in Westwood had 64 cases.

Colerain’s Burlington House had 54.

Both say it's because they recently tested everyone to see who needs to isolate to keep everyone else safe.

The Cincinnati Health Department told us 68% of infections in Pleasant Ridge were on the campus where Gazaway died.

After his stroke, Joy’s brother rolled through UC’s emergency room and the VA for hospital rehab, then to Pleasant Ridge where nurses got him on his feet.

Or so it seemed.

"I was hoping and I was praying it was something other than coronavirus," Joy Gazaway said.

She said her brother moved in March 25 and caught fever days later.

"I asked them at that time how many more people were there, and they said HIPPA regulation wouldn't allow them to discuss that with me," Joy Gazaway said.

“I didn't want to know the name of the person or what room they were in. I just wanted to know the number, because to me that would give me some indication, ‘Is this being contained? Or is it spreading?’"

Pleasant Ridge did not return calls or messages, so it's not clear how they isolate their sick, which includes two workers.

Medicare surveys and inspections found "below average" staffing at Pleasant Ridge. Registered nurses, who oversee care, spend an average of 25 minutes a day with residents -- less than both state and national numbers.

The Pleasant Ridge campus does have four-star ratings for quality care, but with all homes quarantined, advocates want better communication with families not allowed to visit.

"These homes are trying ... but too many families have to know more," said ombudsman Robert Vines.

Gov. Mike DeWine ordered more transparency, but two weeks ago Ohio had trouble delivering.

"There was inconsistent information, inconsistent reporting, causing inconsistent data," DeWine said at one of his news briefings.

Now COVID-19 stats on every nursing home in Ohio are online and, by law, all have 12 hours to notify families of any positive test.

"Individuals that go to nursing homes, their health is compromised, so we need to take every step and precaution to ensure that when they go to rehab they're going to come back out,” said Joy Gazaway. “That was our hope for our brother."

Advocates want and expect more testing in nursing homes. While it's likely to reveal new clusters, epidemiologists say doing so helps contain the spread and potentially save lives.

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:


  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.


  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.


  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.