Nursing Home COVID Cases Increase Due to Community Spread

November 3, 2020
MHE Staff
MHE Staff

Forty-three percent of new cases in nursing homes are coming from midwest states.

New COVID-19 cases are increasing in nursing homes in the U.S. due to the community spread among the general population, according to results recently released in a report from The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), who represent more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately five million people each year.

Recent data released by Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) show with the recent spike in new COVID cases in the general U.S. population, weekly nursing home cases are also on the rise. According to Johns Hopkins University, weekly new COVID cases in the general U.S. population rose by 61% to 391,527 new cases the week of October 18. A correlating uptick in new cases in nursing homes occurred when cases in the surrounding community started rising back in mid-September.

As experts have repeatedly noted, COVID-19 cases in a surrounding community is a top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes due to employees or visitors coming in an out of these facilities. Dr. David Grabowski, professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School recently stated, “The strongest predictor of whether or not we’ll see cases in [a particular setting] is community spread.”

“As we feared, the sheer volume of rising cases in communities across the U.S., combined with the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus, has unfortunately led to an increase in new COVID cases in nursing homes,” stated Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “It is incredibly frustrating as we had made tremendous progress to reduce COVID rates in nursing homes after the spike this summer in Sun Belt states. If everybody would wear a mask and social distance to reduce the level of COVID in the community, we know we would dramatically reduce these rates in long term care facilities.”

During the week of October 18, 43% of new COVID cases in nursing homes were from Midwest states with major spikes in community spread in the upper parts of the region.

After seven weeks for declining cases in nursing homes through mid-September, nursing home cases began to increase as more than 35 states started to see rising level of COVID cases.

The report also shows COVID-related deaths in nursing homes have risen slightly. Nursing home residents are typically older adults with multiple chronic conditions, making them most vulnerable to COVID-19. Residents of long term care facilities account for only 8% of the nation’s cases, yet 40% of its deaths. While mortality rates have decreased compared to the spring due to a better understanding of the virus, better treatments, and government resources to help reduce spread, industry leaders remain deeply concerned that the rising number of new COVID cases in facilities will ultimately lead to an increasing number of deaths.

With rising new COVID cases across the country, Parkinson said Congress must prioritize frontline health care workers and long term care residents during the lame duck session starting next week.

Most of the $175 billion Provider Relief Fund provided by the CARES Act back in April has already been distributed and Parkinson said healthcare providers, including long term care facilities, will need additional funds to continue the response to the COVID pandemic heading into the cold and flu season, which provides new challenges. The financial aid is crucial in helping long term care facilities acquire personal protective equipment, conduct regular testing, and hire additional staff or reward current caregivers for their heroic efforts.

“Congress must fulfill its duty," Parkinson says. "Healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, are already experiencing an uptick in new COVID cases, and they need every possible resource heading into what promises to be a challenging winter. Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. will repeat the same mistakes made during the initial outbreak last spring and the major spike over the summer. We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in long term care facilities, by passing another COVID relief package during the lame duck session on Congress.”

For more information, please visit www.ahcancal.org/coronavirus.