Nursing home residents account for at least 1 in 4 COVID deaths so far
WASHINGTON — At least a quarter of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States so far were among nursing home residents, a new report said, a disclosure that came as coronavirus restrictions eased Monday even as U.S. protests against police brutality sparked fears of new outbreaks.
The scope of the devastation in the nation’s nursing homes became clearer in a report prepared for U.S. governors. It said nearly 26,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 — a number that is partial and likely to go higher.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention reported 60,000 cases of coronavirus illness among nursing home residents, according to a copy of a letter addressed to the governors and an accompanying chart provided to
The Associated Press.
The data were based on reports received from about 80% of the nation’s 15,400 nursing homes as of May 24. But some states with high rates of nursing home deaths appeared to have some of the lowest levels of response to the federal data-gathering survey, intended as a first step toward developing policy changes.
“This data, and anecdotal reports across the country, clearly show that nursing homes have been devastated by the virus,” wrote CDC Director Robert Redfield and CMS Administrator Seema Verma.
The U.S. has seen over 104,000 deaths and nearly 1.8 million infections in the pandemic. Both counts are the highest in the world.
And although the first wave of the pandemic may be easing in much of the U.S., that doesn’t mean nursing homes are in any less danger: Experts say in a virus rebound, they can again become the stage for tragic scenes of death and despair, as well as a risk for the broader community.
“What is going on in a nursing home can be a barometer for where the virus is,” said Tamara Konetzka, a research professor at the
University of Chicago who specializes in long-term care issues.
The actual number of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes appears to be much higher in Virginia than shown in the report. The report says Virginia nursing homes had 847 cases and 307 deaths among residents, as well as 419 cases and nine deaths among nursing home staff. However, the Virginia Department of Health reported Monday that long-term care facilities — including assisted living facilities not regulated by Medicaid or required to report — accounted for 4,920 COVID-19 cases and 785 deaths, or 56% of the state’s 1,392 total deaths from the disease.
However, CMS required facilities to report cases and deaths recorded from May 1 through May 24, so it is not clear whether the homes also reported all cases and deaths prior to May 1, according to a representative of the Virginia Health Care Association and Virginia Center for Assisted Living.
Keith Hare, president and CEO of the two Virginia trade associations, also said many nursing facilities in the state were prevented from reporting their data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because the agency had not activated their accounts.
“This system delay prohibited them from uploading their data,” Hare said. “Nursing facilities should not be penalized or disparaged because the CDC system was overwhelmed.”
The Florida Keys welcomed visitors for the first time in two months, the Colosseum opened its ancient doors in Rome, ferries restarted in Bangladesh, and golfers played in Greece. But as tourist destinations worldwide reopened for business, new rules were in place to guard against the virus’ spread.
“Bring facial coverings, gloves, hand sanitizer, reefsafe sunscreen and personal essential medicines. If you’re feeling unwell, please stay home,” the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, which includes the tourist-dependent Keys, said on its website.
Roadblocks were taken down shortly after midnight near Key Largo, the northernmost island in the Florida chain, where almost half of all workers are employed by hotels, bars and other hospitality industries, and many of the rest are involved in commercial and sport fishing.
But even as the Keys reopened, Miami-Dade County kept its beaches closed because of protests in South Florida and across the country over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man pinned at the neck by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Countries around the Mediterranean Sea also tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask in their famously sunny beaches with distancing measures in place.
“We are reopening a symbol. A symbol of Rome, a symbol for Italy,” said Alfonsina
Russo, director of the Colosseum’s archaeological park.
Greece lifted lockdowns for hotels, campsites, openair cinemas, golf courses and public swimming pools, while beaches and museums reopened in Turkey and bars, restaurants, cinemas and museums came back to life in the Netherlands.
“Today, we opened two rooms and tomorrow three. It’s like building an anthill,” Athens hotel owner Panos Betis said as employees wearing face masks tidied a rooftop restaurant and cleaned a window facing the ancient Acropolis. “Our aim now is to hang in there until 2021.”
A long line of masked visitors snaked outside the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, as they reopened for the first time in three months.
Britain, which has the world’s second-worst death toll behind the United States, eased restrictions despite warnings from health officials that the risk of spreading COVID-19 was still too great. Some elementary school classes reopened and people could have limited contact with family and friends, but only outdoors and with social distancing.
Around 6.19 million infections have been reported worldwide, with over 372,000 people dying, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true death toll is believed to be significantly higher, since many died without ever being tested.
Jack Campise talked with his mother, Beverly Kearns, last month through her apartment window at the Kimberly Hall North nursing home in Windsor, Conn.