Nursing home COVID-19 cases, deaths spike in Sun Belt states

COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes in the Sun Belt states peaked in July, bringing the national number of cases and deaths in nursing homes to the highest level yet in the pandemic, according to an analysis of CMS Nursing Home data by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

After falling through June, by July 26, weekly new cases in nursing homes climbed to 9,715, up 3% from May 31’s peak. Deaths were 45% lower than the end of May, at 1,511 nationwide, according to the data.

COVID-19 cases in nursing homes in the Sun Belt represented 78% of all cases and 69% of all deaths by July 26.

By Aug. 2, the most recent week for which data is available, nursing home cases in the Sun Belt – and nationwide – fell, yet nursing home deaths represented a higher percentage – 74% – of total nursing home deaths.

“With the recent major spikes of COVID-19 cases in many states across the country, we were very concerned this trend would lead to an increase in cases in nursing homes, and unfortunately it has,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said in a prepared statement.

“The data indicate that this virus is spread by asymptomatic carriers and that even perfect infection control wouldn’t have stopped it,” he said. “The challenge with this virus is that because it is spread by asymptomatic carriers the prior infection control procedures didn’t work.”

Parkinson said that about 10% of facilities still report lacking an adequate supply of N95 masks, considered standard for hospital personnel.

CMS on Monday announced it would resume routine inspections of nursing homes. The agency put inspections on hold March 23 so it could focus on infection control and help prevent the spread of the virus. The agency has fined nursing homes $15 million for not complying with infection control requirements and for not reporting COVID-19 data.

Guidelines call for nursing homes to test all residents at least once, and staffers on a regular basis.

HHS Spokeswoman Mia Heck said, “We are prepared to exert our full authority to make sure the most vulnerable are being tested.”

The nursing home association is urging states struggling with the latest coronavirus surge to enact mandates for people to wear masks, saying it would indirectly benefit residents cloistered in such facilities. “There’s a direct link between COVID in the community and COVID in the building,” Parkinson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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