COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other long term care settings have dropped dramatically over the past two months, and new evidence shows the positive turn of events is directly related to the widespread vaccinations of residents and staff.

Recent data from the COVID Tracking Project, which includes residents in nursing homes, assisted living, and related settings, combined with nursing home-specific information from the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), depict a virus in retreat.

For example, the Tracking Project numbers show that for the Feb. 18 week, U.S. long term care providers had 9,674 cases of coronavirus in their buildings. This number compares with 19,814 cases for the week of Feb. 11, 28,642 cases for the week of Feb. 4, and 50,131 cases the week of Jan. 28.

A December 2020 peak saw more than 72,000 cases reported in long term care, the data show.

As for the number of buildings experiencing an outbreak, for the week of Feb. 18, the Tracking Project said 139 facilities saw new COVID outbreaks. This compares to early and mid-January levels of more than 1,100 to 1,400 facilities recording new infections.

National media have noticed the trend, with a report in Axios on Feb. 23 noting that the large declines in long term care infections are tied to the vaccination program spearheaded by the federal government that has seen some 4.5 million residents or staff of nursing homes get at least one vaccination dose thus far.

As for weekly deaths from COVID, Tracking Project data show 4,239 lives lost in long term care facilities for the week of Feb. 18 (including new deaths from Indiana and Ohio that were not previously recorded from long term care) versus late January when nearly 11,000 deaths per week were seen.

For nursing homes only, AHCA/NCAL’s Dashboard, which updates COVID cases and trends, shows that for the most recent week of complete data (Jan. 31) new resident cases have declined by 67 percent since their high point from a month ago (Dec. 20) from more than 30,000 new resident cases to 11,000 cases. Deaths have also declined by 47 percent in the same time frame.

Added to these new statistics is a report from Scotland that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine reduced COVID-related hospitalizations among the elderly by 85 percent. Further, the study said the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine cut seniors' hospitalizations by 94 percent. The AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet available in the United States.

According to Axios, Scottish researchers analyzed a broader data set covering the entire Scottish population of 5.4 million, of which 1.1 million people have received a first dose of the Pfizer or Oxford vaccines. Then, they compared the vaccinated with unvaccinated, “and they saw strong evidence of protection,” the report said.

From December until mid-February, around 8,000 people ended up in the hospital with COVID in Scotland, but only 58 of those individuals came from the vaccinated group.

See the COVID Tracking Project data at https://covidtracking.com/nursing-homes-long-term-care-facilities?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top and AHCA/NCAL Dashboard at https://www.ahcancal.org/Data-and-Research/Pages/default.aspx#covid-dashboard.