The nation's 15,000-plus nursing homes have reported their lowest rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths since the federal government started requiring nursing homes to submit COVID-19 statistics, a new AARP analysis of federal data shows.
Over a four-week period ending March 21, some 2,000 residents — or roughly 1 in every 500 — died from COVID-19. It is by far the lowest monthly death rate on record, the analysis found. That's less than half of the previous lowest rate, which was recorded in the fall. And it represents a drop of 90 percent from the winter death peak between mid-December and mid-January, in which more than 20,000 residents — nearly 1 in every 50 — died from the virus.
More than 182,000 residents and staff in long-term care facilities, including those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, have died from COVID-19 amid the pandemic, accounting for a third of U.S. coronavirus fatalities. More than 131,000 were nursing home residents, according to AARP's analysis.
A combination of high levels of natural herd immunity among nursing home communities from widespread outbreaks over the last year, tighter state and county restrictions enforced during the winter surges, and the strong uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines among residents appear to be driving the recent declines. A federal program — which partnered with CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacy chains to provide on-site vaccinations at over 63,000 U.S. long-term care facilities — has completed more than 99 percent of its nursing home clinics.
The new figures represent “important progress,” says Megan O'Reilly, AARP's vice president of government affairs on health and family, after a “deeply concerning and devastating year for long-term care.”
But the pandemic's tragic toll on long-term care residents and staff shows that efforts to support and reform facilities must continue, O'Reilly adds. “The pandemic has demonstrated that we have inherent challenges in our long-term care system — with staffing and infection control — and these issues need longer-term solutions,” she says. “While this trend is good, we're not done yet.”
COVID-19 infections among residents followed a similar trend to the declining death rate, the analysis found, with fewer than 1 out of every 200 residents testing positive for the virus. That's a 96 percent decline from the peak infection rate between mid-November and mid-December, when more than 1 in every 10 residents became newly infected. The most recent resident case rate is about one-fifth the level of the previous lowest rate, recorded in June 2020.