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Nursing homes see continued record number of new COVID-19 cases, as community spread increases across US

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Mon, Nov 23rd 2020 01:10 pm

New nursing home cases continue to tick up in Midwest states; 275% increase in region since September
Calls continue for Congress to replenish emergency funding for hospitals and long-term-care facilities & for states to take additional measures to control community spread

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), representing more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately 5 million people each year, released a report showing nursing homes in the U.S. continue to see a record number of weekly new cases this month due to the community spread among the general population, surpassing previous peaks since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) started tracking cases in nursing homes.

Recent data released by Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) show that, with the recent spike in new COVID-19 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 229% to 796,761 new cases the week of Nov. 8. 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. University of Chicago's Tamara Konetzka, a nationally recognized expert on long-term care, recently said, “Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle.” Dr. David Grabowski, professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, recently stated, “The strongest predictor of whether or not we’ll see cases in (a particular setting) is community spread.”

“Our worst fears have come true, as COVID runs rampant among the general population, and long-term-care facilities are powerless to fully prevent it from entering due to its asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread,” stated Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “Our health care heroes are doing everything they can to prevent it from spreading further, but this level of COVID nationwide puts serious strain on our workforce, supplies and testing capacity. 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 second week of November, nearly half (49%) of new COVID-19 cases in nursing homes were from Midwest states with major spikes in community spread in the upper parts of the region. As a result, the Midwest region saw a 275% increase in weekly COVID cases in nursing homes since mid-September.

After seven weeks of declining cases in nursing homes through mid-September, nursing home cases began to increase, as nearly all 50 states have started to see rising levels of COVID-19 cases. New weekly cases in nursing homes grew by more than 110% nationwide between mid-September and the week of Nov. 8.

The report also showed COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes are starting to rise: a 69% increase since late September. 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 the rising number of new COVID-19 cases in facilities will ultimately lead to an increasing number of deaths.

“We are especially concerned that this situation will only get worse with Thanksgiving just around the corner,” Parkinson said. “The public must realize that their actions not only endanger our nation’s most vulnerable, but also trigger government lockdowns of facilities, keeping these residents from their loved ones. This is detrimental to their health, wellbeing and happiness. We urge everyone to do their part to slow the spread immediately and exercise caution when celebrating Thanksgiving.”

With rising new COVID-19 cases across the country, Parkinson said Congress must prioritize frontline health care workers and long-term-care residents during the “lame duck” session. Last week, AHCA/NCAL released a list of actions that Congress should urgently take to help nursing homes and assisted living communities respond to the uptick in new cases.

Most of the $175 billion Provider Relief Fund provided by the CARES Act back in April has already been distributed. Parkinson said health care providers, including long-term-care facilities, will need additional funds to continue the response to the COVID-19 pandemic heading into the cold and flu season. 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 said. “Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. is repeating 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, visit www.ahcancal.org/coronavirus.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) represents more than 14,000 nonprofit and proprietary skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, sub-acute centers and homes for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. By delivering solutions for quality care, AHCA/NCAL aims to improve the lives of the millions of frail, elderly and individuals with disabilities who receive long-term or post-acute care in member facilities each day. For more information, visit www.ahcancal.org or www.ncal.org.

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