Nursing homes hit by rise in COVID-19 cases as Omicron variant continues rapid spread

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Susan Abrams says she is being left in the dark while her 87-year-old mother fights COVID-19 alone at PARCway Post Acute Recovery Center in Oklahoma City.

WASHINGTON (KFOR) – The rising tide of COVID-19 cases brought on by the Omicron is hitting nursing homes across the United States.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) released a report Wednesday that shows an “alarming” spike in new COVID-19 cases in nursing homes throughout the nation.

AHCA/NCAL represents over 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities that provide care to approximately five million people a year.

The report cites data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that the spike in COVID cases at nursing homes is due to the virus spreading through communities among the general population.

The Omicron variant is powering the rapid spread, as COVID cases among both nursing home residents and staff have had significant growth over the past few weeks, according to the AHCA/NCAL.

“As soon as news of Omicron broke in December, we were very concerned this variant would lead to a surge of cases in the U.S. and therefore, an increase in cases in nursing homes and unfortunately it has,” stated Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). “We urged members of the public to help us protect our nation’s seniors ahead of the holiday season, and we reiterate that plea today. Help support our frontline caregivers and safeguard our most vulnerable by getting vaccinated, boosted and masked.”

COVID-related deaths among nursing home residents has increased in recent weeks, according to the report, but the death rate is 10 times less than the December 2020 rate due to high vaccination and booster rates among residents.

“We anticipated this would happen and called on long term care providers to prepare for Omicron by doubling down on their efforts to get residents boosted as well as their infection prevention measures,” said Dr. David Gifford, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for AHCA/NCAL and a geriatrician. “Fortunately, the vaccines appear to be working against Omicron, but we must remain vigilant and steadfast on vaccinating and boosting as many residents and staff members as quickly as possible.”

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The rise in nursing home COVID cases reflect trends among the general population. Health experts state that a community’s number of COVID cases are a key indicator of outbreaks in its nursing homes.

AHCA/NCAL officials urge government public health officials to immediately take actions to protect nursing home residents and staff as the Omicron variant surges, including prioritizing long term care for testing, treatments and workforce support.

“We cannot weather this storm alone. We’re extremely concerned how this surge will impact our already dire labor crisis as caregivers must isolate if they test positive. Staffing shortages impact access to care for our vulnerable residents and impede our ability to help overwhelmed hospitals,” Gifford said.

U.S. nursing homes already have 234,000 less caregivers than when the pandemic began – a 15 percent reduction and a historic workforce shortage, according to AHCA/NCAL officials.

Parkinson sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking Secretary Xavier Becerra to extend the public health emergency declaration beyond its Jan. 16, 2022, expiration date and prioritize long term care facilities for testing and treatments.

“With the high spread of Omicron and breakthrough cases among those vaccinated, the need for rapid and reliable testing as well as treatments for our resident population—who is at the highest risk for COVID-19 complications and hospitalizations—is crucial,” Parkinson said in the letter.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 5,507 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. The state has had 775,169 COVID cases since the pandemic began in March 2020.

There are currently 66,444 COVID cases in Oklahoma, according to OSDH.

Oklahoma has had 12,697 COVID-related deaths as of Wednesday, an increase of 31 deaths since Tuesday.

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