Healthcare worker checks fever of patient with infrared thermometer. Both wear protective face masks.
Credit: Getty Images
Healthcare worker checks fever of patient with infrared thermometer. Both wear protective face masks.

COVID-19 cases are soaring in nursing homes, particularly in the Midwest, thanks to community spread, according to a report released Monday by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. The increase is prompting calls from industry experts for increased funding for long-term care, as well as the need to take proper mitigation measures.

After seven weeks of declining cases in nursing homes, in mid-September nursing home cases began to increase as more than 35 states started to see a rising level of COVID-19 cases, the report said. During the week of Oct. 18, 43% of new COVID-19 cases in nursing homes were from Midwest states with major spikes in community spread in the upper parts of the region.

This chart from the AHCA report shows the correlation between community spread and nursing home cases.

Simultaneously, weekly new COVID-19 cases in the general U.S. population rose by 61% to 391,527 new cases the week of Oct. 18, according to the AHCA report. This week, ABC news also reported on a surge in coronavirus cases in nursing homes. A correlating uptick in new cases in nursing homes occurred when cases in the surrounding community started rising back in mid-September, AHCA found.

Cases have risen dramatically in the Midwest, this chart from the AHCA report shows.

A ‘wake-up call’

Lane Bowen

Industry veteran Lane Bowen, executive vice president, chief strategic officer and director of board for Avalon Health Care Inc., told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Monday that more needs to be done to protect residents.

“I believe this was a wake-up call to say, we should wear masks, wash our hands, take care of each other, be respectful of our distance, and we can stop a lot of this,” said Bowen, former president and chief operating officer of Sava Senior Care.

Bowen, who also has served as an executive for Kindred Healthcare, said that information related to the latest uptick hurts residents in multiple ways because facilities have to continue to limit services, such as therapy. And the lack of federal policy creates confusion for facilities, he noted.

“They don’t know what they should do, depending on the state they’re in,” he said. “Obviously, the people who work in those nursing homes would do whatever they can do to help residents they’ve helped for all these years, but they are limited by state laws and state rules and local health departments. It could be more uniform, I think.”

COVID-19 cases at nursing homes started to rise in the latter part of September, according to AHCA.

Appeal for funding

Mark Parkinson, CEO and president of AHCA/NCAL appealed to Congress to pass COVID-19 stimulus funding during its lame-duck session starting next week.

AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson

“Congress must fulfill its duty,” he said in a statement. “Healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, are already experiencing an uptick in new COVID cases, and they need every possible resource heading into what promises to be a challenging winter,”“

Parkinson also repeated his calls for community-dwelling people to take proper precautions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, to not inadvertently spread the virus. 

“It is incredibly frustrating as we had made tremendous progress to reduce COVID rates in nursing homes after the spike this summer in Sun Belt states,” he said.