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'She didn't need to die' | Burlington man describes the heartbreaking loss of his mother-in-law, after she caught coronavirus in nursing home

Matt Rice wants people to remember that vulnerable populations are still vulnerable, and that coronavirus is still spreading - even if the state continues to reopen.

BURLINGTON, N.C. — Friday's latest COVID-19 numbers are a sobering reminder of the cost of the virus. It's killed more than a thousand people in North Carolina so far, the overwhelming majority over the age of 75. More than half of the deaths happened after exposure at nursing homes or congregate living facilities.

One of the worst outbreaks in the Triad - happening at Burlington nursing home: White Oak Manor. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 27 people have died.

Matt Rice, Barbara Garrison's son-in-law says she was one of those 27. He says, Garrison celebrated her 88th birthday at the beginning of May, but less than a month later she died, due to complications from coronavirus.

"We get a letter that they've been taking all the safety precautions to make sure that nobody gets sick there," he explained, "And then next thing you know, she's dead."

Rice said his mother-in-law had lived in the facility for about five years. Around her birthday, at the beginning of May, he learned there were 14 positive cases confirmed at White Oak. 

Garrison was tested - and the result was positive for COVID-19. It wasn't long before she was moved to a Greensboro hospital. She passed away on May 28th.

Rice told WFMY News 2 a number of workers at the facility told him the outbreak began after one sick worker didn't stay home. 

"It just makes me sick," he said. 

As the state reopens, Rice hopes people will take into account that vulnerable populations are still vulnerable; coronavirus - still very much a threat to nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.

Last month, managers at White Oak Manor said it has received a two week supply of personal protective equipment from the federal government and is also carrying out regular checks and testing of residents and staff.

"As part of our commitment to the health and well-being of our staff and residents, White Oak is working hand in hand with the Health Department to conduct regular testing. We believe this will help us to further tailor our response to COVID-19 within our facility, and assist health officials with collecting critical information to help better understand this virus," wrote Greg Forsey in a statement to WFMY News 2. 

"We're handling and caring for positive cases in accordance with CDC guidelines. At this time, we are well stocked with personal protective equipment. 

"We have also received our 14-day supply of PPE from FEMA.  As we move forward, we will continue to monitor and assess those that could need further testing," continued Forsey.

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