ROCKFORD — A contract employee at the Winnebago County-owned River Bluff Nursing Home has tested positive for COVID-19, health officials confirmed Friday.


No residents have tested positive for the virus, they said. The Winnebago County Health Department said it is working closely with the River Bluff staff to prevent further transmission of the virus in the 240-bed nursing home at 4401 N. Main St. About 175 people are cared for at the facility.


Visitors are prohibited except in special circumstances, such as end-of-life situations.


"The health and safety of our River Bluff residents and outstanding staff caring for them is of the utmost importance," Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney said in a news release. "During this unprecedented time, we have been proactively working to implement practices that help protect employees, residents and members of the community. Unfortunately, we know that some in our community will get sick and the best way we can prevent the spread and help protect those who are working (in) essential services is to stay home. It was important to us to communicate this information to the community in a timely and transparent manner."


Nursing homes are considered highly vulnerable amid the coronavirus pandemic because residents live in close quarters, enabling illness to spread quickly, and because of the age and health of the residents.


About 66% of the people who have died from COVID-19 in Illinois have been 70 or older, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.


More than 3,600 deaths nationwide have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, The Associated Press reported on Sunday. There had been 33,049 total U.S. deaths from the virus as of Friday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Nearly 300 nursing home patients and employees in the state have died from COVID-19, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday, but where those deaths occurred isn’t clear.


Nursing homes are required to tell the state about positive tests for disease, but they’re not obligated to inform the public or other residents’ families or staff members.


Two residents of Anam Care, 8104 Sayer Road, Rockford, died from the disease. A resident at Alden Alma Nelson Manor, 5505 S. Mulford Road, Rockford, also died from COVID-19. That’s only known because the two facilities decided to disclose the deaths publicly.


Illinois public health officials haven’t named specific facilities where the virus has been detected, but have been pressured to do do so. IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike has fielded questions about making such information public multiple times this week.


She said Wednesday that she thought nursing homes were doing their best to notify families while managing a multitude of tasks designed to keep residents safe.


"I think it's absolutely the intention in every nursing home to contact families when they have a loved one that's sick and to give updates," she said at Wednesday’s daily news conference held in Chicago. "I'm going to speak for the nursing homes when I say, I probably think it's just backlog and not that they don't want to but trying to manage all the tasks, in addition to caring for the loved ones that they've been tasked with."


Ezike also signaled that the state may publicly release more information about coronavirus cases in nursing homes in the future.


Kevin Haas: khaas@rrstar.com; @KevinMHaas