'These numbers are incredibly encouraging': Vaccines show major success in protecting nursing homes

'These numbers are incredibly encouraging': Vaccines show major success in protecting nursing homes
Jacksonville, Fla. - Barbara Bufano gets the COVID-19 vaccine at Naval Hospital Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 15, 2021. Vaccines are currently being offered to on-base health care personnel and first responders assigned to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Naval Station Mayport and critical national capabilities forces, deploying forces, frontline essential workers, and beneficiaries age 75 and older. COVID-19 vaccines are not available by walk-in for non-hospital personnel.

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New Covid-19 cases have plummeted by 96% in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities since late December, a report published Tuesday by the industry group American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living revealed.

AHCA/NCAL reports (pdf) a decline in new U.S. weekly nursing home cases from 33,540 on December 20 to 1,349 on March 7, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Widespread coronavirus vaccinations began in early January, when new nursing home cases dropped precipitously.

The inudstry groups also said there has been a 91% decline in coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes, dropping from over 6,000 in December to 547 this month.

"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," said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, 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," Parkinson added. "Now we need Congress to prioritize our nursing homes for the long term by considering the initiatives in the Care For Our Seniors Act to improve the quality of care for our residents."

The Care For Our Seniors Act—written by AHCA and LeadingAge, which represents thousands of nonprofit aging services providers—would enhance critical care in nursing homes, provide increased support to frontline caregivers, improve oversight, and modernize resident dignity and safety, its proponents say.

U.S. nursing homes have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the AARP's nursing home dashboard, more than 174,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died of Covid-19—nearly a third of all U.S. deaths from the virus, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she felt a sense of "impending doom" over rising coronavirus infections following state leaders' premature moves to relax or completely lift pandemic-related restrictions.

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