Weekly COVID-19 cases in nursing homes have eclipsed earlier pandemic peaks as cases across the U.S. climb, according to a new report by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents nursing homes and assisted living communities.
Weekly new cases in the U.S. rose 140% to 572,613,527 in the U.S. the week of Nov. 1 and continue climbing by more than 100,000 cases per day, according to Johns Hopkins University and CMS data. That’s an increase of 73% from mid-September when cases in nursing homes first started to rise again after falling since late July.
When cases rise in communities, so, too, do cases in nursing homes, AHCA/NCAL has found. Of the new cases in nursing homes, 47% were from Midwest states with surges in community spread. The Midwest alone has seen a 200% increase in COVID-19 cases in nursing homes since mid-September.
“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,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “We are especially concerned that this situation will only get worse with Thanksgiving just around the corner.”
Health officials worry that the more indoor gatherings people have, the more the virus will continue to spread throughout the community. And nursing homes residents are particularly at risk because many have comorbidities that make them more susceptible to the virus. In the U.S., nursing home cases represent 8% of all COVID-19 cases, yet are responsible for 40% of deaths.
As cases climb, tests still aren’t being turned around fast enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, according to a recent study completed by researchers at the University of Rochester, Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The federal government sent rapid point-of-care diagnostic testing devices to nursing homes and requires surveillance testing based on community spread levels, yet many nursing home favor PCR tests, which are known to be more accurate but also require lab processing instead of providing on-site results, said David Grabowski, a professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School and one of the study’s authors. There also are regulations at state and local levels that require PCR tests, leaving nursing homes to figure out what to do with the antigen tests from the government.