Coronavirus cases surging in nursing homes in worst hit states, study finds

 Data from 20 states reveal new weekly cases among residents rose from 1,083 to 4,274 in five months

Louise Hall
Sunday 08 November 2020 21:30
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Coronavirus cases in nursing homes have surged fourfold in US states hard hit by the latest onslaught of the pandemic, a new analysis has shown.

A study for the Associated Press of federal data from 20 states seeing a rise in infections revealed that new weekly cases among residents rose nearly four-fold from the end of May to late October from 1,083 to 4,274.

Deaths of residents more than doubled from 318 a week to 699, according to the study by University of Chicago health researchers Rebecca Gorges and Tamara Konetzka.

The analysis casts scepticism over the effectiveness of the Trump administration’s strategy to push economies to reopen while simultaneously protecting the most vulnerable people from infection.

“Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle,” said Prof Konetzka, a nationally recognised expert on long-term care.  

“Someone has to care for vulnerable nursing home residents, and those caregivers move in and out of the nursing home daily, providing an easy pathway for the virus to enter.”

On top of the increase in residents, weekly cases among nursing home staff in the same states more than quadrupled, up from 855 the week ending 31 May to 4,050 the week ending 15 October.

Infected staffers are one of the most likely ways the virus penetrates care home facilities, as people can be infectious up to two days before they start experiencing symptoms and therefore unaware they are carrying the disease.

When employees test positive and  are forced to isolate it also creates more strain on remaining staff members.

The US reached a record number for daily coronavirus infections on 6 November, recording more than 130,000 new cases of the disease.

The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the country stood at nearly 104,000 on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In response to the findings, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a statement saying that “the bottom line is that the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on nursing homes is complex and multifactorial", adding that facilities “bear the primary responsibility for keeping their residents safe”.

“Many times, the likely causes of nursing home outbreaks are simply nursing homes failing to comply with basic infection control rules,” the statement said.

The Trump administration allocated $5b to nursing homes, shipped 14,000 fast-test machines, and tried to build up stocks of protective equipment in an effort to shelter the sector from the wave of infections.

Prof Konetzka said the research illustrates that nursing home quality has no significant effect on cases and deaths once community spread is factored in. 

“It’s not like the high-quality facilities have figured out how to do things better,” she said. 

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for about 1 per cent of the US population, but represent 40 per cent of Covid-19 deaths, according to the CovidTracking Project.

The US has recorded more than 10 million cases of the novel virus since the outbreak gripped the nation in March, leading to the deaths of more than 238,000 people.

The 20 states analysed in the study were Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming. They were selected because they’re now seeing their highest hospitalisation rates for Covid-19.

Reporting by the Associated Press

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