A woman displays her vaccination passport on her phone
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The pressure is mounting on nursing home operators to require residents and staff to receive COVID-19 booster shots. 

AARP argues that the rapid rise in coronavirus cases brought on mostly by the omicron variant magnifies how booster shots are “absolutely critical” against the fast spreading variant. The consumer advocacy group emphasized the need for proactive steps in a new blog post published Thursday.

The latest data from the federal government revealed that weekly COVID-19 cases at skilled nursing facilities rose 475% — from about 5,800 to 33,400 — from mid-December to Jan. 2.

Data showed that weekly cases among staff hit a record-breaking 57,000 during the week of Jan. 9 — nearly double the previous record of about 29,000 reported in December 2020.

Federal health agencies, however, have found that the new infection rate among nursing home residents who have received a booster shot is 90% lower than those who haven’t gotten the additional coverage. That was among the high points noted by AARP’s Susan Reinhard, RN, Ph.D., senior vice president and director of the AARP Public Policy Institute, and Ari Houser. Reinhard is the and Houser is a senior methods advisor for the institute. 

Multiple states, including California, New Mexico, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, already require] boosters for nursing home staff, according to LeadingAge. 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Wednesday that the state is exploring an antibody testing program in nursing homes to determine if residents should receive a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state is partnering with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Medical Center on the initiative. 

“While being fully vaccinated without a booster still provides protection against severe illness and death, it is no longer adequate for nursing home residents; a booster is necessary to remain protected,” Reinhard and Houser wrote. 

They added that delivering booster doses to nursing home residents and eligible direct care staff “should be of highest priority.” 

“Especially where vaccination and booster uptake are lagging, states must tackle this matter with urgency,” they wrote. “Anyone working or living in a nursing home who is eligible for a booster but has not had one should do so as soon as possible.”