Nursing homes thankful for COVID vaccines, boosters as cases spike in Omicron-driven surge

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Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 11:04 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Nursing homes around the nation are thankful for COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots as cases spike in long-term care facilities in the latest Omicron-driven surge.

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living say they released a report on Thursday, Jan. 13, which indicates nursing homes in the U.S. have seen an alarming spike in new COVID-19 cases.

Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows these new cases are due to community spread among the general population - not in nursing homes.

According to the data in the report, COVID cases among both residents and staff in nursing homes have rapidly increased in the past few weeks. This mirrors trends in the general population in the U.S. due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

As experts have repeatedly noted, AHCA and NCAL said COVID-19 cases in a surrounding community is a key indicator of outbreaks in nursing homes.

Weekly COVID CasesNursing Home ResidentsNursing Home Staff
Dec. 19, 20214,3615,919
Dec. 26, 20216,40613,257
Jan. 2, 202218,18642,004
Jan. 9, 202232,06157,243

“As soon as news of Omicron broke in December, we were very concerned this variant would lead to a surge of cases in the U.S. and therefore, an increase in cases in nursing homes and unfortunately it has,” stated Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). “We urged members of the public to help us protect our nation’s seniors ahead of the holiday season, and we reiterate that plea today. Help support our frontline caregivers and safeguard our most vulnerable by getting vaccinated, boosted and masked.”

The report also shows high vaccination and booster rates among nursing home residents are to thank for lower rates of death due to the virus. It said COVID-related deaths among nursing homes have increased in recent weeks, but the rate of death is still 10 times less compared to what it was in December 2020.

Week EndingDec. 20, 2020Jan. 9, 2022
Weekly COVID Cases Among Nursing Home Residents34,09432,061
Weekly COVID Deaths Among Nursing Home Residents6,219645
Weekly COVID Death Rate per 1,000 Nursing Home Residents5680.60

“We anticipated this would happen and called on long term care providers to prepare for Omicron by doubling down on their efforts to get residents boosted as well as their infection prevention measures,” said Dr. David Gifford, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for AHCA/NCAL and a geriatrician. “Fortunately, the vaccines appear to be working against Omicron, but we must remain vigilant and steadfast on vaccinating and boosting as many residents and staff members as quickly as possible.”

The organizations said they have called on public health officials at every level of government to take immediate action to support nursing homes and assisted living communities throughout this surge, including prioritization of long-term care for testing, treatments and workforce support.

“We cannot weather this storm alone. We’re extremely concerned how this surge will impact our already dire labor crisis as caregivers must isolate if they test positive. Staffing shortages impact access to care for our vulnerable residents and impede our ability to help overwhelmed hospitals,” said Dr. Gifford.

AHCA and NCAL said the nursing home workforce has already seen a historic worker shortage, with 234,000 fewer caregivers than when the pandemic started. This is a 15% reduction in the workforce.

Additionally, Parkinson and the organizations said they recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to urge Secretary Xavier Becerra to extend the public health emergency declaration, which is set to expire on Jan. 16, as well as prioritize long-term care facilities for testing and treatments.

“With the high spread of Omicron and breakthrough cases among those vaccinated, the need for rapid and reliable testing as well as treatments for our resident population—who is at the highest risk for COVID-19 complications and hospitalizations—is crucial,” Parkinson wrote in the letter.

The AHCA and NCAL represent over 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities in the nation which provide care to nearly 5 million people.

To read the full report, click HERE.

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