Image of Jennifer Schrack, Ph.D.

Despite a steep drop in cases this spring, nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 appear to have leveled off, according to a new AARP analysis of federal data. 

Once COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out in December, cases began to plummet industry-wide, falling 90% in early spring. But the virus remains a threat, with more than 800 residents and staff members dying from its complications in federally certified facilities each month, AARP reported Thursday. 

Although infections and deaths continue to fall overall, these facility rates remained unchanged from mid-March to mid-May. And more than 10,000 residents and staff members continue to contract the disease each month, the analysis found.

An increase in visitations and unvaccinated workers likely are behind the lack of downward momentum, according to one expert. 

“Every visitor is another potential exposure, particularly those who are not vaccinated,” Jennifer Schrack, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told the AARP. “They have to really consider carefully if they’re going to visit their loved one, and if they do, they should wear [personal protective equipment] and be very cautious, even if their loved one is vaccinated. … Low risk doesn’t mean no risk.”

Staff member vaccinations also have slowed to a trickle, Schrack added. “The vaccination rate is still going up, but at a much, much slower rate than it was earlier this year, which aligns with this sort of steady state we’re seeing.”

Long-term care residents have accounted for almost 40% a third of the nation’s overall COVID-19 deaths, although they comprise only about 6% of total cases, according to the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living.

Vaccine mandates for workers appear to be more common among employers in senior living compared with those in skilled nursing.

More information about the AARP analysis is posted on the organization’s website.

In related news:

Positive COVID tests drop twofold for each 20% of population vaccinated Mass vaccination protects the vaccinated but also provides “cross-protection” to unvaccinated individuals in the community, according to a new study from Israel. Investigators compared COVID-19 test results between vaccinated adults and unvaccinated children aged 16 years and younger (who were not eligible for shots at the time), in distinct geographic regions of the country. Positive test rates were found to drop twofold for each 20% of the population vaccinated. Israel’s vaccination campaign covered almost 50% of its population in nine weeks and has provided a treasure trove of data for researchers.