The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the assisted living industry, according to a federal analysis of state and local data. 

Unlike the skilled nursing industry, which reports case counts and deaths to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, COVID-19 data are more elusive for assisted living. Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, therefore, have relied on information reported on state and territorial health department websites to create a picture of the pandemic’s effect on the sector. 

Based on limited data available from 39 states as of Oct. 15, researchers found that 22% of 28,623 assisted living communities had reported one or more cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff members. Rates ranged widely, from 1.3% of communities in Iowa to 93% of Connecticut facilities, reported Matthew Stuckey, Ph.D., and colleagues from the CDC’s COVID-19 Response Team.

A fifth (21%) of residents who tested positive for the virus died, compared with 3% of infected people in the general population. Reported deaths among infected staff members were 0.3%. An earlier, international study released in October estimated that 30% of coronavirus deaths in U.S. long-term care have occurred in assisted living. 

U.S. long-term care facilities overall (including both skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities) accounted for 6% of total state COVID-19 cases and 39% of deaths as of Nov. 6, CDC reported. 

Rapid identification and response to suspected or confirmed COVID-19 is crucial to controlling outbreaks in assisted living, just as it is in other congregate care settings, the agency concluded. It recommends that operators:

  • Identify a point of contact at the local health department to aid prompt notification.
  • Educate residents, family and staff members about COVID-19.
  • Have a plan for visitor and staff member restrictions.
  • Encourage physical social distancing and the use of masks, as appropriate.
  • Implement recommended infection prevention and control practices and provide access to supplies.
  • Rapidly identify and properly respond to residents and staff members with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
  • Conduct surveillance of COVID-19 cases and deaths, facility staffing and supply information.

The researchers noted a number of study limitations, mostly due to the absence of data from some states and territories, variations in data reporting and some uncertainty in identifying certain assisted living communities. 

Full findings are available on the CDC’s website.