Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

Seniors who lived in nursing homes were at an increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 compared to those who lived in home-and community-based settings during the pandemic’s early months, a new study found. 

Findings published in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (JAMDA) revealed that 37% of nursing home residents were COVID-positive between March and July, while only about 3% of older adults in HCBS programs were infected with the disease during the same period. 

Death rates among nursing home residents were also considerably higher, at 11%, when compared to HCBS participants, which was less than 1%.  

Study authors noted that the findings could mean that COVID-19 infection rates are being underreported for HCBS programs. 

“Mandatory 100% testing began in May for all [nursing home] and [assisted living] residents. HCBS participants did not have mandatory testing. Thus, COVID-19 infection rates may be somewhat underreported because of asymptomatic cases or cases not otherwise diagnosed as COVID-19, but they are still markedly lower than the [nursing home] or [assisted living] rates,” the authors wrote. 

“The main distinction between groups was their living situation. It is likely that living in the community, versus a congregate setting, accounts for the significantly lower infection rates. These figures bear close monitoring for the HCBS population because if trends move upward, any policy response will be challenged by the decentralized location of these community-dwelling vulnerable adults,” they concluded. 

Full findings were published online Wednesday in JAMDA.