Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
When the U.S. coronavirus vaccination program began in December, residents and employees of long-term care facilities were put at the top of the priority list. That made sense, since those facilities accounted for more than one-third of all virus-related deaths while representing less than 1% of the population, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The strategy appears to be working. Deaths and confirmed coronavirus cases have dropped sharply in U.S. nursing homes ― a category of all long-term care facilities ― since the vaccination program began, according to a The New York Times analysis of federal information.
The New York Times said deaths in nursing homes went down more than 65% between late December and early February. New cases went down 80% in that time period, twice the rate of the general population, with new cases at their lowest level since May.
“I’m almost at a loss for words at how amazing it is and how exciting,” Dr. David Gifford, the chief medical officer for an organization that represents long-term care facilities, the American Health Care Association, told the Times. “If we are seeing a robust response with this vaccine with the elderly with a highly contagious disease…I think that’s a great sign for the rest of the population.”
The first coronavirus outbreak occurred in a nursing home in Washington State a little more than a year ago. Since then, long-term care facilities have struggled to contain the spread of the virus. One of the most heart-wrenching hardships of the pandemic was the elimination of visits by outsiders, including families, to long-term care facilities.
More than 170,000 COVID-related deaths occurred in long-term care facilities, with 1.3 million cases reported, The COVID Tracking Project said. In the total population, the United States has had about 28.3 million cases and 506,000 deaths.
Some states were hit harder than others. The The New York Times analysis says nursing home deaths account for more than half the COVID-related deaths in 10 states ― Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
The CDC says 6.7 million doses of vaccine have been distributed to long-term care facilities, with 4.5 million people receiving one dose and 2.2 million getting two doses. Overall, 88.7 million doses have been delivered in the United States, with 66.5 million doses administered.
The Times noted how life has improved at one nursing home, Valley Senior Living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where residents are socializing again and visiting with a few relatives at a time.
“Things are better,” said Garth Rydland, the chief executive at Valley Senior Living. “You kind of knock on wood every time you say something like that, but now, I feel a lot more confident.”
The COVID Tracking Project. “The Long-Term Care COVID Tracker.”
The New York Times. “Nursing Homes, Once Hotspots, Far Outpace U.S. in Covid Declines.” “Nursing Home Deaths.”
CDC. “Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care (LTC) Program.” “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.”