COVID-19 cases and deaths in U.S. nursing homes have fallen dramatically in the first two months of 2021 after peaking around the holidays, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation that offers some good news for residents and staff who have been battered by the pandemic.
New weekly COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes have fallen 66 percent since late December, according to the report, which was published Wednesday and is based on federal data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. New cases are down 83 percent over the same period. The report's findings track with AARP's COVID-19 nursing home dashboard, which shows nursing home infections peaked in the weeks leading up to New Year's Day but have since declined. The number of new cases and deaths outside long-term care facilities have also fallen from holiday highs.
Experts warn that it's much too soon to declare victory in the fight against COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, and that long-term infection control issues and staffing shortages persist. The authors of the Kaiser report note that the decline in long-term care cases and deaths began around the time COVID-19 vaccines were first made available to residents and staff, who account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. population but 35 percent of the country's COVID-19 deaths. The virus has killed more than 170,000 people in long-term care settings, according to the COVID Tracking Project. “The data is clear. The vaccine is making a difference,” Mike Wasserman, M.D., a geriatrician and past president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, says of the Kaiser report.
The federal partnership with CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacies tasked with delivering the first shots of two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to residents and staff of nursing homes got off to a slow start late last year. But it has since picked up the pace, finishing its first round of nursing home shots in late January. CVS announced Wednesday that it had administered second-round vaccines at almost all of the nearly 8,000 skilled nursing facilities it's working with across the country.