Covid-19 Cases Rising Again in Nursing Homes Nationwide

Uptick portends more deaths among the most vulnerable and reveals a flaw in idea of natural herd immunity

Credit: American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living

With new Covid-19 cases surging across the country and the pandemic expected to get much worse, the number of new infections has begun inching back up in nursing homes after declining since late July, putting some of the most vulnerable people at risk — just as infectious-disease experts had predicted would happen.

The uptick reveals a major flaw in the logic circulating in the White House suggesting that the most vulnerable people, including older adults, could be protected while allowing the coronavirus to run its course in the general population with a goal of achieving natural herd immunity.

“The number one factor in keeping Covid out of our nursing homes, so we can protect our vulnerable population, is reducing the level of the virus in the surrounding community,” says Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which produced the new report based on data from more than 14,000 long-term care facilities.

Credit: American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living

The rise in nursing-home cases reveals that the nation has not figured out how to adequately protect the most vulnerable people, says Marc Lipsitch, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. While testing has become more widespread in nursing homes and that could help tamp down future outbreaks, it remains inadequate, Lipsitch says.

“There will be continued outbreaks [in nursing homes] and probably more as community transmission increases,” says Lipsitch, who was not involved in the new report.

Through October 6, 59,626 nursing home residents have died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Because the number of reported Covid deaths lags a few weeks behind the pace of new infections, experts fear nursing home deaths will begin rising again, too.

Credit: American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living

The long-term care industry was in a poor financial state before the pandemic struck, lacking resources and equipment to contain outbreaks, with underpaid and poorly trained employees, according to a perspective article published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Nursing homes will need new federal funding to combat any new increase in outbreaks, Parkinson says in a statement.

“While the support we have received from Congress, the Administration, and other public health agencies have helped our facilities fight this battle, we could still see another wave of Covid cases caused by the sheer volume of rising cases in communities across the U.S. given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus.”

Explainer of things, independent health and science journalist, author, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience and Space dot com.

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