Despite the rising proportion of COVID-19 deaths attributed to seniors and the uncertainty of what the winter months might bring, optimism found its way into Monday’s LeadingAge coronavirus update call.

LeadingAge CEO Katie Smith Sloan reminded listeners of the joint statement her organization and the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living issued last week in response to the White House’s renewed push for COVID booster vaccination uptake.

Barriers to higher uptake include misinformation about vaccinations and people being discharged from hospitals to nursing homes unvaccinated, she said. 

“These are solvable problems if we can put our collective minds to work to focus on the endgame and not the blame game,” Sloan said. “None of us want another winter of illness. None of us know what’s next for this virus so being prepared and protected is critical. I’m feeling optimistic at the moment.”

Ali H. Mokdad, PhD, professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and Chief Strategy Officer for Population Health at the University of Washington, was the call’s featured speaker. 

He said because of the high number of Americans vaccinated there will be a rise in cases this winter but not in deaths. Death numbers will fall, he said, but not during the winter. 

Also on Monday, a Washington Post article highlighted that an average of more than 300 people are dying daily from the virus, most of them 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Put another way, nearly 9 in 10 COVID deaths are in people 65 or older, the highest rate ever.

It’s for this reason that younger people and those who have had only some vaccinations need to get all vaccinations, Mokdad said.

“We all need it,” he said. “It’s not about you and I. It’s about people we live around. We’re coming into holidays, and the last thing you want to bring to your table is COVID-19. We need to protect the people around us.

“COVID will be with us for a long time. We need to get the vaccine simply because we want to be around (seniors) and we want to be able to visit them and spend quality time with them. The only way to do that safely is for us to protect ourselves.”

Mokdad said the risk of long COVID is lower if a person is up to date with vaccinations. His rule on masking is simple, he added.

“Your mask-wearing should be dictated by the people you’re around, not by who you are,” he said. “I want to make sure when I arrive to visit my mom and hug her, I want to hug her and not stay isolated for two days in a room to make sure I don’t have COVID-19 and then go and hug her.”