WASHINGTON, D.C. – The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, representing more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately five million people each year, released a report showing that nursing homes in the U.S. have experienced an alarming spike in new COVID cases due to community spread among the general population, according to data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The data shows COVID cases among both residents and staff in nursing homes are rapidly increasing in the past few weeks, mirroring trends among the general U.S. population due to the highly contagious Omicron variant. As experts have repeatedly noted, COVID-19 cases in a surrounding community is a key indicator of outbreaks in nursing homes.
“As soon as news of Omicron broke in December, we were very concerned this variant would lead to a surge of cases in the U.S. and therefore, an increase in cases in nursing homes and unfortunately it has,” said Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). “We urged members of the public to help us protect our nation’s seniors ahead of the holiday season, and we reiterate that plea today. Help support our frontline caregivers and safeguard our most vulnerable by getting vaccinated, boosted and masked.”
The report also showed that while COVID-related deaths among nursing home residents have increased in recent weeks, the rate of deaths is 10 times less compared to December 2020 due to high vaccination and booster rates among residents.
“We anticipated this would happen and called on long term care providers to prepare for Omicron by doubling down on their efforts to get residents boosted as well as their infection prevention measures,” said Dr. David Gifford, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for AHCA/NCAL and a geriatrician. “Fortunately, the vaccines appear to be working against Omicron, but we must remain vigilant and steadfast on vaccinating and boosting as many residents and staff members as quickly as possible.”
AHCA/NCAL is calling on public health officials at every level of government to take immediate steps to support nursing homes and assisted living communities during the Omicron surge, including prioritizing long term care for testing, treatments, and workforce support.
“We cannot weather this storm alone. We’re extremely concerned how this surge will impact our already dire labor crisis as caregivers must isolate if they test positive. Staffing shortages impact access to care for our vulnerable residents and impede our ability to help overwhelmed hospitals,” said Dr. Gifford. The nursing home workforce is already experiencing a historic workforce shortage, with 234,000 less caregivers than when the pandemic began—a 15 percent reduction.
Additionally, Parkinson and AHCA/NCAL recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging Secretary Xavier Becerra to extend the public health emergency declaration, which expires on January 16, 2022, as well as prioritize long term care facilities for testing and treatments.
“With the high spread of Omicron and breakthrough cases among those vaccinated, the need for rapid and reliable testing as well as treatments for our resident population—who is at the highest risk for COVID-19 complications and hospitalizations—is crucial,” Parkinson wrote in the letter.