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COVID deaths plummet in nursing homes. New report reveals the dramatic fall

It’s a move in the right direction, experts say.
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Mary Claire Lane, 86, left, a resident at Hellenic Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in Canton, Mass., shares a hug with her daughter, Anne Darling, of Attleboro, Mass., during a visit at the nursing home on March 18. (Steven Senne | AP)

Coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes have dropped by 91 percent since late December when residents were prioritized to receive the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines, according to a new report from The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

The report released this week also shows new COVID-19 cases among residents of long-term care facilities have dropped by 96 percent since a peak week in December when there were more than 30,000 new resident cases.

It’s a move in the right direction, experts say, given this population faces some of the greatest risks of severe disease and death because of their age and potential medical conditions that suppress their immune systems.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but these numbers are incredibly encouraging and a major morale booster for frontline caregivers who have been working tirelessly for more than a year to protect our residents,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes across the country, said in a statement. “This trend shows that when long term care is prioritized, as with the national vaccine rollout, we can protect our vulnerable elderly population.”

The positive news comes as cases in the general public trend upwards following steady declines over the last several weeks.

The most recent seven-day average of new coronavirus cases increased by nearly 12 percent from the previous week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday during a White House COVID-19 briefing, with more than 61,000 new cases this week.

New hospital admissions are also rising, with a 6 percent jump in the seven-day average from the week prior. Deaths, on the other hand, continue to drop.

The American Health Care Association together with LeadingAge are also trying to address challenges affecting the quality of care in nursing homes that the pandemic has exposed, such as staff shortages and underfunded government reimbursements.

The groups introduced the Care For Our Seniors Act that focuses on four areas: “Enhancing the quality of care with enhanced standards for infection preventionists; requiring that each nursing home have a registered nurse on-staff, 24 hours per day; requiring a minimum 30-day supply of personal protective equipment in all nursing homes; attracting, retaining and developing more long term care professionals.”

As of March 25, about 3.7 million coronavirus vaccine doses (47 percent) have been given to long-term care facility staff and residents, according to a CDC tracker.

“With a growing elderly population soon needing our services, the moment is now. We must pay tribute to all those who lost their lives to this vicious virus and resolve to bring forth a brighter future,” Parkinson said. “We have already seen what progress can be made when policymakers come together to make long term care residents a priority and through these reforms, we can significantly improve the quality of care for our current residents and generations to come.”