COVID deaths and cases are rising again at US nursing homes

Jan 15, 2022, 3:18 PM | Updated: Jan 16, 2022, 5:35 am
FILE - Edward Williams, 62, a resident at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, receives a COVID-19 booster...

FILE - Edward Williams, 62, a resident at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, receives a COVID-19 booster shot in New York, Sept. 27, 2021. COVID-19 infections are soaring again at U.S. nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too. That's leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

COVID-19 infections are soaring again at U.S. nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too, leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted.

Nursing homes were the lethal epicenter of the pandemic early on, before the vaccine allowed many of them to reopen to visitors last year. But the wildly contagious variant has dealt them a setback.

Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of 645 COVID-19-related deaths among residents were recorded during the same week, a 47% increase from the earlier period. And there are fears that deaths could go much higher before omicron is through.

Despite the rising numbers, the situation is not as dire as it was in December 2020, when nursing home deaths per week topped out at about 6,200. Experts credit the high vaccination rates now among nursing home residents: About 87% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

COVID-19 shots and boosters provide strong protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death, but the sick and elderly are uniquely vulnerable to the virus.

Nursing home officials say they are responding to the outbreak by limiting visitors to common areas instead of allowing them into residents’ rooms, and by reinstituting social distancing.

Some states, like New York, have put their own measures in place, like requiring proof of a negative test for visitors and providing all with surgical masks.

Nursing homes are also working to drive up vaccination numbers, especially for boosters. Sixty-three percent of nursing home residents nationally have received an extra dose.

Booster numbers are much worse for staff members. About 83% are fully vaccinated, but only 29% have gotten an extra dose.

Nursing homes have been holding vaccine clinics and town hall meetings to stress the importance of the shots.

They also got another tool to increase vaccinations Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Biden administration vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.

About 57,200 nursing home workers — by far the highest number on record during the pandemic — had the virus in the week ending Jan. 9, a more than tenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the CDC.

Sharon Wheeler was shocked to learn that her 88-year-old, dementia-stricken father recently contracted COVID-19 at a Naperville, Illinois, nursing home. She said she hopes the fact that he is fully vaccinated and boosted will help him pull through.

She said she suspects visitors and residents coming and going around the holidays brought COVID-19 inside. Wheeler hasn’t been allowed to see her father, but the staff told her he had mild symptoms.

“I worked so hard to make sure he never got (COVID-19), because I was so terrified,” she said. “He’s such an older man, and I don’t want to lose him this way.”

Vaccines are just one of the many tools that should be used to defend the elderly against omicron, said Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. He also recommended testing of visitors, mandatory boosters and the use of medical-grade masks like N95s and high-efficiency air filters.

“We need to build a Fort Knox around protecting nursing homes, but we’re not doing that right now, and that’s why cases are surging,” Feigl-Ding said Thursday. “We’re going to have exponential numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.”

The virus dealt a devastating blow in late November to the New Hampshire nursing home Todd Fernald runs, called Webster at Rye, where 100% of residents and staff were vaccinated — but not boosted.

“COVID ripped through this building in 10 seconds,” Fernald said, recalling how, on the day that extra shots were scheduled to be administered, an outbreak occurred that would ultimately kill six residents, infect dozens of others and sicken 20 employees.

Since then, nearly all residents have been boosted, and employees are getting their third shots.

“I only lost one employee who didn’t want to be vaccinated and chose to resign their job,” Fernald said. “I’m having more and more people each and every week that I see are getting boosted and bringing me their booster cards.”

Making sure that facilities have supplies like tests is crucial too, said Lisa Sanders of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services, including nursing homes.

“Older adults and the people they care for should be prioritized for support and supplies as they become available,” Sanders said.

___

Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Blasts in Kabul mosque, north Afghanistan, kill at least 14

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A series of explosions shook Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Taliban said, including a blast inside a mosque in the capital of Kabul that killed at least five worshippers and three bombings of minivans in the country’s north that killed nine passengers. The Kabul Emergency Hospital said it received 22 victims of the […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Germany: Arrests made after reported school weapon sighting

BERLIN (AP) — German police said they made a number of arrests Wednesday after an employee at a school reported having seen a youth carrying a firearm in a basement room of the building. Police sent officers to the Ernst Barlach School in the western town of Dinslaken after receiving a call about the claimed […]
1 day ago
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, April 23...
Associated Press

‘Trump is in the past’: Mounting losses show limits of power

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (AP) — Donald Trump opened May by lifting a trailing Senate candidate in Ohio to the Republican nomination, seemingly cementing the former president’s kingmaker status before another possible White House run. He’s ending the month, however, stinging from a string of defeats that suggests a diminishing stature. Trump faced a series of setbacks […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Official: 41 indicted in $58M Puerto Rico drug operation

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A federal grand jury indicted 41 suspected gang members in Puerto Rico accused of smuggling drugs to the U.S mainland as part of a $58 million operation, authorities said Wednesday. Those arrested include several of the U.S. territory’s suspected drug trafficking leaders, according to Joseph González, special agent in […]
1 day ago
FILE - Nancy Rose, who contracted COVID-19 in 2021 and continues to exhibit long-haul symptoms incl...
Associated Press

Long COVID affects more older adults; shots don’t prevent it

New U.S. research on long COVID-19 provides fresh evidence that it can happen even after breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, and that older adults face higher risks for the long-term effects. In a study of veterans published Wednesday, about one-third who had breakthrough infections showed signs of long COVID. A separate report from the Centers […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Austrian COVID vaccine mandate to remain suspended in summer

BERLIN (AP) — Austria’s coronavirus vaccination mandate has been suspended for another three months until the end of August. A parliamentary committee signed off Wednesday on an order from the health minister extending the suspension, the Austria Press Agency reported. Officials said on Tuesday that the mandate for people aged 18 and over, which became […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
COVID deaths and cases are rising again at US nursing homes