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COVID infections and deaths have increased at US nursing homes as the country continues to record breaking number of cases amid the surge of the Omicron variant.
Nursing homes were considered to be the lethal epicenter of the pandemic early on before the vaccine allowed many of them to reopen to visitors last year.
However, the surge of the new Omicron variant has since proven to be a setback for the elderly as cases began to skyrocket over the course of the holiday season.
The recent spike has since lead to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted.
Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A total of 645 COVID-19-related deaths among residents were recorded during the same week, a 47 percent increase from the earlier period and there are fears that deaths could go much higher before omicron is through.
As of Sunday, the US has recorded around 527,000 new daily cases and over 800 deaths.
An increase in infections and deaths have been recorded at US nursing homes as the Omicron variant continues to surge throughout the country
As of last week, 32,000 cases and 645 deaths have been recorded at nursing homes across the country
The surge in nursing home cases has lead to new restrictions for visiting family members to decrease the chance of a spread
Despite the rising numbers, the situation is not as dire as it was in December 2020 when nursing home deaths per week topped out at about 6,200.
Experts credit the high vaccination rates now among nursing home residents with about 87 percent are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
COVID-19 shots and boosters provide strong protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death but the sick and elderly are uniquely vulnerable to the virus.
Nursing home officials say they are responding to the outbreak by limiting visitors to common areas instead of allowing them into residents’ rooms and by reinstituting social distancing.
Some states, like New York, have put their own measures in place, like requiring proof of a negative test for visitors and providing all with surgical masks.
Nursing homes are also working to drive up vaccination numbers, especially for boosters with 63 percent of nursing home residents nationally have received an extra dose.
Booster numbers are significantly lower for staff members as about 83 percent are fully vaccinated but only 29 percent have gotten an extra dose.
Nursing homes have been holding vaccine clinics and town hall meetings to stress the importance of the shots.
They also got another tool to increase vaccinations Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Biden administration vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the US.
The case increase has urged unvaccinated elderly residents to receive the shot as well as their booster
About 87 percent of nursing home residents have been fully vaccinated with around 63 percent receiving the booster shot as well
To keep residents safe, healthcare workers have also been encouraged to receive the vaccine and the booster
About 57,200 nursing home workers – by far the highest number on record during the pandemic – had the virus in the week ending Jan. 9, a more than tenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the CDC.
Sharon Wheeler was shocked to learn that her 88-year-old, dementia-stricken father recently contracted COVID-19 at a Naperville, Illinois, nursing home.
Wheeler said she hopes the fact that he is fully vaccinated and boosted will help him pull through.
She also added she suspects visitors and residents coming and going around the holidays brought COVID-19 inside.
Wheeler hasn’t been allowed to see her father, but the staff told her he had mild symptoms.
‘I worked so hard to make sure he never got (COVID-19), because I was so terrified,’ she said. ‘He’s such an older man, and I don´t want to lose him this way.’
Vaccines are just one of the many tools that should be used to defend the elderly against omicron, said Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.
He also recommended testing of visitors, mandatory boosters and the use of medical-grade masks like N95s and high-efficiency air filters.
‘We need to build a Fort Knox around protecting nursing homes, but we´re not doing that right now, and that´s why cases are surging,’ Feigl-Ding said Thursday.
‘We’re going to have exponential numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.’
The virus dealt a devastating blow in late November to the New Hampshire nursing home Todd Fernald runs, called Webster at Rye, where 100 percent of residents and staff were vaccinated – but not boosted.
‘COVID ripped through this building in 10 seconds,’ Fernald said, recalling how, on the day that extra shots were scheduled to be administered, an outbreak occurred that would ultimately kill six residents, infect dozens of others and sicken 20 employees.
Since then, nearly all residents have been boosted, and employees are getting their third shots.
‘I only lost one employee who didn´t want to be vaccinated and chose to resign their job,’ Fernald said.
‘I’m having more and more people each and every week that I see are getting boosted and bringing me their booster cards.’
Making sure that facilities have supplies like tests is crucial too, said Lisa Sanders of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services, including nursing homes.
‘Older adults and the people they care for should be prioritized for support and supplies as they become available,’ Sanders said.
An analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University finds that the U.S. is averaging 786,406 new cases per day, a 121 percent jump over the past two weeks, and a 30 percent increase over the past seven days.
For comparison, last Thursday, January 6, the U.S. was averaging 607,064 cases per day, a 70 percent increase over the previous week then which means week over week case growth has more than slashed in half over the first half of January.
While the U.S. set a one day record of over 1.4 million cases on Tuesday, the figure was inflated as a result of weekend reporting lags, and is not reflective of single day averages.
The current 786,000 cases per day is the most America has ever experienced.
The largest drops in case growth in recent days have been experienced in Northeast, with states that were once seeing meteoritic case growth now seeing case rates starting to taper off.
In New York and New Jersey, states that experienced a more than seven-fold increase in cases early in the Omicron surge are now seeing increases of around 40 percent over the past two weeks.
The Omicron variant is showing more signs that it is starting to burn out this week with the rate of case growth slowing in 44 states over the past two days.
National case growth is slowing as well, with the daily case average stagnating around 786,000 after rocketing in recent weeks.
While cases are still on an upward trajectory, the massive slowing in cases adds to the growing body of evidence that the new strain is starting to run out of people to infect – a phenomena predicted by many U.S. health experts in recent weeks.
Some experts are hopeful that the high infectiousness of the variant, combined with the relatively mild symptoms of Omicron could mean that the pandemic is soon coming to a close.
Dr Jim Baker, an immunologist at the University of Michigan, wrote in blog that the virus is showing similar signs to the 2011 flu pandemic that it will burn out soon.
‘We have been focused on number of infections with COVID-19 because of the very sensitive and accurate diagnostic tests (PCR) we have developed,’ he said.
Source: Daily Mail