Coronavirus cases in US nursing homes surpass peak level amid surge in infections

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Coronavirus cases in U.S. nursing homes saw a dramatic rise this summer and have surpassed all-time high levels, resulting from the virus spread across the Sunbelt states, according to a report on Sunday.

Federal agency data shows there were 9,715 coronavirus cases in nursing homes the week of July 26, which eclipsed the previous high of 9,421 cases during the last week of May, according to a study by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).

“With the recent major spikes of COVID cases in many states across the country, we were very concerned this trend would lead to an increase in cases in nursing homes and unfortunately it has,” said Mark Parkinson, president, and CEO of the AHCA and NCAL.

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FILE – In this June 25, 2020, file photo, residents at the Southern Pines nursing home are separated and wear face coverings during their daily bingo game in Warner Robins, Ga. A new report says COVID-19 cases in U.S. nursing homes jumped nearly 80% earlier this summer, driven by rampant spread across the South and much of the West. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Nursing home cases jumped nearly 80 percent earlier this summer from the previous low point of 5,480 infections back on June 21. The recent surge has ignited concerns for facilities located in areas that have also seen an infection spike within the general population. About 78 percent of new cases in U.S. nursing homes came from facilities in the Sunbelt region, an area that has seen an increase in cases.

While COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes were previously on the decline, they have also started to rise again. There were 1,706 fatalities were reported the week of July 26, an increase of more than 22 percent from the previous week — yet still well below the 3,130 deaths reported at the end of May.

About 69 percent of COVID-related deaths in U.S. nursing homes as of July 26 came from the Sunbelt region, up by 41 percent from the last week of May.

“The case numbers suggest the problem is far from solved,” said Tamara Konetzka, a research professor at the University of Chicago. “As the virus surges in Sunbelt states, there’s no reason to think it won’t affect nursing homes in the same way it did in states that surged earlier."

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Officials hope to prevent another New York, which has seen more than 6,600 fatalities reported in state nursing homes — with Gov. Andrew Cuomo drawing much of the criticism. Reports suggest that the death toll could actually be higher in New York as the state only counts residents who died on nursing home property and not those who were transported to hospitals and died there.

Long-term care facilities account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, but more than 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Parkinson said the recent increase in U.S. nursing home cases was "especially troubling" because many still have a lack of PPE equipment and testing to fight the virus, which has been a top concern among nursing home providers.

The White House announced in late July the release of $5 billion for nursing homes, while launching a program to equip each of some 15,000 facilities with a fast-test machine to screen residents and staff for the coronavirus.

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“What we need – now more than ever – is for our government leaders and lab companies from the private sector to work together to find a solution to prioritize and expedite the processing of tests for nursing home residents and caregivers,” said Parkinson.

She added that having people wear masks and social distance would also be imperative to reducing the spread in nursing homes and help to save the lives of America's senior citizens, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said states and nursing homes also have a responsibility to safeguard residents.

“The reality is that (a) facility’s infection control practices is the number one factor leading to the spread of COVID within these facilities,” she said. "All the testing in the world is for naught if staff don’t adhere to the basic, longstanding infection control practices that the federal government has had in place for years.”

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The AHCA and NCAL represent more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the U.S., which provide care to about five million people each year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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