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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Despite a sharp overall drop in coronavirus infections in nursing homes in recent months, 43 California nursing homes that weathered 2020 without any COVID-19 cases have reported new cases since 2021 began. This happened even though the elderly were among the first to get COVID-19 vaccines during the initial rollout in mid-December, fueling a 95.2 percent drop in new cases in nursing homes in California by early February -- among the best states in the country. Nationally, new cases dropped by 83 percent.
These surprising revelations are among the findings of the third in a series of reports by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, based on analyzing government data about nursing homes and COVID-19.
Over the course of the pandemic, the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes have been COVID-19 bellwethers. These new cases are a clear indication that while things are getting better, our society still faces risks from the virus. However, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services this month issued new guidance, relaxing visitation restrictions.
“California got off to a slow start with vaccinations, but now the results speak for themselves,” said Claudia Deeg, CALPIRG Public Health Associate. “But with nearly 550,000 Americans dead, we need to make sure that a rush to return to normal doesn’t needlessly put lives and communities at risk again.”
Our latest analysis points to other areas of concern, including:
1,117 homes in California reported three or more new cases among residents in one week in the first six weeks of this year.
For 43 of those California homes, they were their first cases ever during the pandemic.
More than 600 nursing homes nationwide reported three or more new resident cases during the first week of February, more than a month after mass vaccinations started in nursing homes.
More than 7,000 nursing home residents contracted COVID-19 once last year, recovered and then were reinfected between late November and early February.
While shortages of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment have improved, nearly 6 percent of nursing homes in February reported a critical shortage of N95 masks, which experts say are the single best protection against contracting COVID-19.
Undoubtedly, though, the overall situation in nursing homes is improving.
Our analysis found that new cases among nursing home residents nationally soared through the fall, reaching 33,212 nationwide for the week ending Dec. 20, when nursing homes started administering vaccinations. Cases dropped by several thousand in just the first week. By the early February, new cases had plunged to 5,573 -- a decline of 83 percent in seven weeks.
The declines were similarly impressive among staff. During the peak week, ending Dec. 13, 28,457 nursing home workers nationwide tested positive for new cases. That dropped to 5,308 -- a decrease of 81 percent in seven weeks.
“This fantastic news validates what everyone was hoping -- that the vaccines work. What’s stunning is how quickly cases plummeted after residents received just one shot,” said Deeg.
The report includes research that points to the benefits achieved after the first of two shots for the vaccine brands that require a second dose. It also discusses some of the impact on nursing homes of the new $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
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