It is difficult to make a direct comparison of rates between nursing homes and the general population due to differences in data collection. While health officials routinely track COVID data from facilities, many Americans are using home testing and not necessarily reporting their results to their local health departments.
Cases also rose 42% among staff, according to AARP data. The majority of nursing home staff are women, disproportionately women of color, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Whereas death in nursing homes are higher than they were in previous months, they are not as high as they were at the start of the pandemic, which Hauser attributes to high vaccination rates in nursing homes : On average across the country, 88% of residents and 89% of nursing home staff have received their first round of COVID-19 vaccines.
“I don’t see another month where more than 20,000 people die [like early in the pandemic],” he said.
However, low and slow to increase booster vaccination rates, especially among the staff, are of concern. According to AARP, only 51% of nursing home staff received a reminder in June. Seventy-two percent of nursing home residents have received a first reminder nationwide.
There isn’t enough data yet to track second recalls among residents and staff, though Hauser expects to have second recall numbers in the coming months.
“Almost everyone [living] in a nursing home is eligible for a second recall, as are many of the staff,” Hauser said.
Callback rates for residents and staff vary widely by state. In Florida, only 59% of nursing home residents received reminders. In New York, 77% of residents received a first reminder, which is higher than the US average of 71.6%.
Most nursing homes nationwide do not require reminders and there are currently no national mandate.
According to the CDC, the vaccine provides excellent protection against serious illness and death. However, it was less effective in protecting against mild and moderate illnesses caused by the new variants of the virus. It remains unclear whether vaccination reduces the risk of post-COVID complications.
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Donna Gregory, 53, works for a nursing home in Cheektowaga, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. She remembers the horror of the start of the pandemic: “It was horrible. We have lost so many people,” she said.
Local funeral home staff refused to enter out of fear, so Gregory and other nursing home staff were responsible for putting residents in body bags – when they were even available.
“We were to be the undertakers. We had to put [disinfecting] spray in their mouth. [If there were no body bags] their faces were covered with a pillowcase or a towel. Then we would put them on the stretcher and take them out the door,” Gregory recalls.
Although cases are currently on the rise at Gregory’s nursing home, the situation is not as bad as it was then. “There is no comparison,” she said.
Gregory is fully vaccinated and boosted – his retirement home demands it from the staff. She first contracted COVID-19 in January during the first omicron wave.
Gregory described his initial COVID infection as relatively mild and flu-like. However, she has since been hospitalized twice for heart problems, including one night in intensive care.
“I saw a cardiologist and the only thing they can tell me is that it may be due to the virus,” Gregory said. People who have had COVID-19 seem to be at higher risk of developing heart problemsbut the reasons are not yet fully understood.
One thing that’s different about the current wave, according to Hauser: it’s everywhere.
“When the numbers are low in an area of the country, it just means the impacts happened last month or will happen next month,” he said.
Hauser also urged caution when it comes to praising a particular state’s handling of the pandemic.
“There is a desire, if a particular state is doing well at that time, to attribute low cases in that state to something that state did,” he said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with it… The reality is, it’s everywhere. No state is spared from the virus.
This story originally published by The 19.