The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) released an updated report on Dec. 1 showing nursing homes in the United States have now experienced the worst outbreak of weekly new cases since last spring due to the community spread among the general population, surpassing previous peaks since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) started tracking cases in nursing homes.

AHCA/NCAL said recent data released by Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) show that with the recent spike in new COVID cases in the general U.S. population, weekly nursing home cases are also on the rise.

According to Johns Hopkins University, weekly new COVID cases in the general U.S. population rose by 330 percent to 1,043,040 new cases the week of Nov. 15. A correlating uptick in new cases in nursing homes occurred when cases in the surrounding community started rising in mid-September.

As experts have noted, COVID-19 cases in a surrounding community is a top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes. University of Chicago's Tamara Konetzka, a nationally recognized expert on long term care, recently said, “Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle.”

“Our worst fears have come true as COVID runs rampant among the general population, and long term care facilities are powerless to fully prevent it from entering due to its asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread,” said AHCA/NCAL President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Parkinson.

“Our health care heroes are doing everything they can to prevent it from spreading further, but this level of COVID nationwide puts serious strain on our workforce, supplies, and testing capacity. Given the fact that our elderly population is the most vulnerable and the rising level of COVID across the U.S. shows no signs of stopping, it is paramount that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] provide the highest priority for the vaccine distribution to long term care residents and staff.”

During the week of Nov. 15, nearly half (49 percent) of new COVID cases in nursing homes were from Midwest states, with major spikes in community spread in the upper parts of the region. As a result, the Midwest region saw more than a 400 percent increase in weekly COVID cases in nursing homes since mid-September.

After seven weeks of declining cases in nursing homes through mid-September, nursing home cases began to increase as nearly all 50 states started to see significant rising levels of COVID cases. New weekly cases in nursing homes grew by more than 177 percent nationwide between mid-September and the week of Nov. 15.

The report also showed COVID-related deaths in nursing homes are starting to rise, crossing more than 2,000 residents lost the week of Nov. 15—the first time since early June. Nursing home residents are typically older adults with multiple chronic conditions, making them highly vulnerable to COVID-19. Residents of long term care facilities account for only 7 percent of the nation’s cases, yet 40 percent of its deaths.

“With millions of Americans failing to heed advice from public health experts and traveling during Thanksgiving, we are extremely concerned that this situation will only get much worse,” Parkinson said.

“At this point, long term care facilities desperately need public health officials at every level to take emergency steps to get control of the community spread and ensure our facilities have the resources they need, as well as for CDC to make our residents and caregivers the top priority in distributing the vaccine in order to save thousands of lives.”

With record new COVID cases across the country, Parkinson said Congress must also prioritize frontline health care workers and long term care residents during the lame-duck session. Last week, AHCA/NCAL released a list of actions that Congress should urgently take to help nursing homes and assisted living communities respond to the uptick in new cases.

“Congress must fulfill its duty,” Parkinson said. “Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. is repeating the same mistakes made during the initial outbreak last spring and the major spike over the summer. We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in long term care facilities, by passing another COVID relief package during the lame duck session on Congress.”

For more information, please visit www.ahcancal.org/coronavirus.