Image of masked clinician and patient talking in clinic visit

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted U.S. nursing homes and the 1.4 million elderly and disabled residents living in these homes, according to a report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office.

The statement, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, followed an analysis of 13,380 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes, which represents 88% of such homes. The CDC data were gathered from nursing home reports collected from May 2020 through January 2021.

During this eight-month review period, the GAO found that nursing homes in the United States experienced on average three outbreaks, with 12,555 of the 13,380 nursing homes reviewed (94%) experiencing at least more than one COVID-19 outbreak. Data further showed that 85% of the COVID-19 outbreaks lasted five or more weeks. 

There was an average of 56 COVID-19 cases per outbreak when the nursing home reported a “long-duration” outbreak and an average of 13 cases for a “short-duration.” For both long- and short-duration outbreaks, more than half of the nursing homes (66%, or 8,720 homes) reported that these outbreaks began with a staff member who tested positive during the first week.

Here’s the full GAO report.