Rapid Rise Again in COVID-19-related Nursing Home Cases & Deaths

Rapid Rise Again in COVID-19-related Nursing Home Cases & Deaths

Although the Trump Administration has an ongoing effort to protect vulnerable elderly residents in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes from the ravages of COVID-19, the latest surge is once again disproportionately impacting the high risk population.  A recent Associated Press analysis identified that new weekly cases involving COVID-19 have dramatically risen from 1,083 to 4,274—up nearly four-fold—from late May until late October. A new study funded by University of Chicago revealed that, unfortunately, deaths of the nations’ most vulnerable population have doubled from 318 week to 699. Just as troubling, nursing home staff are getting hit hard again with cases in the surge states quadrupling from 855 per week by the end of May to 4,050 per week by Oct. 25. Unfortunately, it would appear asymptomatic nursing home staff could be a contributing factor. Recent research out of the University of Chicago questions the current approach to fighting COVID-19 and suggests community spreading of the virus endangers nursing home residents.

A Deadly Situation

A national tragedy continues to unfold as the nation’s elderly, those that have worked and contributed to society for a lifetime, die at unacceptable rates. Although nursing homes and other long-term care facilities represent only 1% of the U.S. total population, they represent 40% of COVID-19 deaths, reports the COVID Tracking Project.

Support Funded

The recent AP report shared that the Trump Administration has allocated $5 billion to nursing homes as well as shipped nearly 14,000 rapid-test machines in a bid to ensure every facility has the wherewithal and capabilities for maximizing resident and staff protection.

Shut-Downs via Risk-Based Openings

Does this latest data put into question the White House’s plan for opening up states while working to establish protective shields around vulnerable populations, such as the elderly in nursing homes? The White House approach can be thought of a “risk-based approach” where those that face low risk (e.g. younger, healthier people) can move about freely, which has obvious benefits (keep the economy going, etc.).

However, some question whether the prospect of not fully controlling community spread just represents a losing battle when considering what is occurring ongoing with nursing homes.

Chicago Researchers Discuss

The recent long-term research was conducted by Rebecca Georges and Tamara Konetzka who express concerns about the direction right now. Ms. Konetzka, a subject matter expert in the field of long-term care, lectured, “Tying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle.”

She continued, “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.”

CMS Position

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a statement in response to this study that “the bottom line is that the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on nursing homes is complex and multifactorial.” Essentially justifying its actions, the agency declared its doing all it can to protect these facilities’ residents and emphasized that this demographic would be first in line for a vaccine. They emphasized that ultimately the facilities themselves are responsible for the safety of residents.

Researchers Look at Community-wide Problems?

The Chicago researchers suggest the problem does involve a much broader problem that CMMS does have some accountability over—that is the issue of “community spread.” Ms. Konetzka emphasized, “Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle.” The researcher pointed out that the problem isn’t one of specific facility quality but rather a broader community-wide problem. The implication of course points to more proactive involvement by the federal government to control community-wide contagion.

Lead Research/Investigator

Tamara Konetzka, PhD 

Rebecca Georges, PhD