Coronavirus infections among nursing home residents are on the rise again, having increased nearly six-fold in a month.
In the two weeks ended April 12, 85 infections were recorded among residents of Connecticut nursing homes. In the two weeks ended May 10, 478 infections were reported.
Staff infections also rose to 346 in the two weeks ended May 10, up from 115 in the two weeks ended April 12.
Infections and deaths in nursing homes are published every two weeks in Connecticut.
The increase in COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities reflects an increase in community spread. The state’s positivity rate was 14% Thursday, a sizeable rebound since late February when the first omicron wave subsided and the state’s daily positivity rate fluctuated 2% to 3%. And because many people use rapid home tests to detect infection, some positive cases don’t get counted.
Hospital admissions, which had fallen below 100 by mid-March, hit 369 on Thursday.
In the two weeks ended April 12, only one death related to a nursing home resident related to COVID was recorded. In the two weeks ended May 10, 12 such deaths were reported.
Infection and death rates among residents are still far lower than in 2020, when thousands were infected and deaths in nursing homes accounted for more than 60% of Connecticut’s total COVID-19 deaths.
However, with fewer people wearing masks and restrictions lifted to stem the spread of the virus, infections are picking up again.
“I don’t see the same level of focus in the community. And my perception is that we all want COVID to go away, we all want it to go away. But wishes won’t make it,” said Bill White, whose family owns the Beechwood Post-Acute & Transitional Care Center in New London. “I really encourage people to continue to be careful. If you have symptoms, don’t assume it’s an allergy — get tested. The best help that nursing homes can get is self-regulation by the people in the community.”
White took to social media this week appealing to those who have loved ones in long-term care facilities.
“What I wrote is basically: please be careful in your private life. Because when you visit our care home, your life intersects with ours and we have people who are at risk,” he said. “They don’t realize that a large part of the population is still very vulnerable. People don’t necessarily think about these effects.”
Although hospitalization and death rates in this wave have been lower so far than previously during the pandemic, White said: “There are still people who can get very sick and die. We’re just asking people to keep that in mind when making decisions about what to do and where to go.”
Nursing homes are still allowing visits, although most facilities require guests to wear a mask. In recent months, many homes have stopped requiring visitors to present a negative COVID test.
As the number of cases rose, an already arduous staff shortage became more difficult as workers called in sick to quarantine.
“It’s deteriorating staffing, which is already – as we keep saying – the worst that has ever happened in the history of the sector,” said Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities.
Some nursing homes have had to turn away potential new patients being discharged from hospitals because they don’t have the staff needed to care for the influx, Barrett said.
And with higher COVID cases, hospital referrals have increased in some areas.
“One of the things we’re looking at is the amount of referrals we’re seeing coming out of hospitals; not necessarily COVID patients, it just increases overall volume because COVID puts pressure on the system, and then everything else feels pressured too,” White said.
“Nursing homes remain in the state in which they have probably experienced the most staffing challenges in my 25+ years as a manager in this business. … When we get busier and busier, it’s wonderful, but it really presents us with a lot of challenges.”
In highlighting the crisis, the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed long-term care facilities lost more than 400,000 workers between February 2020 and March 2022.
“This far surpasses other health sectors,” the organizations wrote in a press release. “Pandemic-related issues have led to increased burnout among caregivers. Coupled with the inability of many providers to compete with other employers due to chronic underfunding, long-term care providers are facing a crisis of historic proportions.”
For now, nursing home leaders are not asking the state to reopen the recovery centers that helped relieve pressure on facilities during the 2020 surges. The centers allowed nursing homes to move COVID-positive residents to designated buildings for care, and they also accepted COVID-positive patients from hospitals before later moving them to nursing homes after the patients recovered.
“We wouldn’t say we even remotely recommend the recreation facilities,” Barrett said. “It’s something you always have to monitor and be aware of. But we wouldn’t… conclude that now.”
Many nursing homes house immunization clinics for residents and staff who wish to receive a second booster shot. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 89% of Connecticut nursing home residents have received an additional baseline or booster dose of a COVID vaccine.
Anna Doroghazi, associate director of advocacy and public relations for AARP in Connecticut, said that with cases and hospitalizations on the rise, people should be mindful of how their actions are affecting others, especially those most at risk.
“It’s unfortunate that many of the same people in our society who were ignored before the pandemic continue to be ignored at this time,” she said. “I understand that people want to continue. I want to continue But I wish we all thought more about how we consider the impact of our actions on the elderly and disabled as we return to normal.”