Nearly a year ago, more than 43% of coronavirus deaths in the United States were tied to long-term care facilities. Now, the deaths of people connected to such facilities has dropped to 31%, according to a New York Times database, revealing an improving picture for the oldest Americans.
Throughout the pandemic, The Times has tracked covid-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes, assisted-living centers, memory care units and other long-term facilities for older people, and has identified more than 1.38 million infections among residents and employees of the facilities, as well as more than 184,000 deaths.
The virus has spread easily in these facilities and has been particularly lethal for unvaccinated adults in their 60s or older.
“Coronavirus highlighted some of the needs of both the residents themselves and the facilities,” said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, citing a need for more oversight, greater examination of infection controls and better training for staff members.
She said the pandemic had also forced many people to reevaluate their views on long-term care.
“I’m sure there are people who are feeling like, ‘Could I have cared for them at home? Could I have a different outcome?'” Prins said.
Since vaccines have arrived, deaths in nursing homes, in particular, have fallen significantly. According to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. nursing homes reported more than 5,000 deaths per week from early December through mid-January. Since late March, the homes have reported fewer than 300 deaths a week.
Still, deaths slowly continue to mount. Although health care workers were among the first group to become eligible for inoculation, vaccination hesitancy has remained a challenge at long-term care facilities.
With reports of infections occurring among vaccinated people in long-term care facilities in Chicago and Kentucky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stressed that inoculating workers and residents is essential to preventing further spread of the virus.
The federal government is requiring nursing homes to report the vaccination status of their residents and staff members in order to examine the impact of the vaccines.
More than 4.9 million residents and employees in long-term care facilities have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine through a federal program, according to the CDC.
Others have been vaccinated through state and local efforts.
“Reporting vaccination rates is critical to facilitating in-person visitations in nursing homes,” said Dr. David Gifford, the chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, a trade group that represents more than 14,000 U.S. nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
He added: “It is important that we not judge facilities with low vaccination rates but instead seek to understand whether additional resources or outreach can be done to encourage more staff and residents to get the vaccine, or help facilities acquire additional vaccines for new patients and hires.”