An updated report citing new government data released on Aug. 17 by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) showed a major spike of new COVID-19 cases in nursing homes has now surpassed the peak level recorded back on May 31.

The report shows the increase of COVID cases in U.S. nursing homes is a direct result of the major spikes in the general population of the Sun Belt region, with 78 percent of new cases in U.S. nursing homes coming from those states by the end of July. 

According to the report, COVID-related deaths in nursing homes had declined significantly but have started to increase again, with 69 percent of COVID-related deaths in U.S. nursing homes coming from the Sun Belt states. 

“With the recent major spikes of COVID cases in many states across the country, we were very concerned this trend would lead to an increase in cases in nursing homes and unfortunately it has,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of AHCA/NCAL. “This is especially troubling since many nursing homes and other long term care facilities are still unable to acquire the personal protective equipment [PPE] and testing they need to fully combat this virus.” 

While PPE shortages continue to be a major concern for long term care facilities, especially the lack of available N95 masks, the lack of reliable and rapid result testing has been the top concern among nursing home providers, the association said.

In a survey AHCA/NCAL conducted in June, 87 percent of nursing homes said tests for residents and staff were taking two days or longer to obtain results. One out of four nursing homes said it was taking five days or longer.

“What we need—now more than ever—is for our government leaders and lab companies from the private sector to work together to find a solution to prioritize and expedite the processing of tests for nursing home residents and caregivers,” Parkinson said.                                                                                  

In a recent CNN interview, Parkinson said governors and state public health agencies need to focus on reducing the level of COVID in the general population and ensuring nursing homes obtain the PPE supplies and reliable testing they need. 

“If everybody would wear a mask and encourage their friends and family to wear a mask and social distance, we know we would dramatically reduce these rates. When people are making the conscious decision not to wear a mask, they are making a decision that is resulting in greater community spread and increasing the presence of the virus in long term care facilities resulting in senior deaths,” Parkinson said.

“Every governor needs to make a priority, particularly in states with an exploding number of cases, to make sure every long term care facility has the N95 masks and testing they need. It’s the only way to bring the case counts down.”

Parkinson is urging Congress for an additional $100 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services Provider Relief Fund, which is accessible for all health care providers impacted by COVID-19, and that a sizeable portion of the fund be dedicated to helping nursing homes and assisted living communities acquire resources associated with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the virus, including constant testing, PPE, and staff support.

Thus far, assisted living communities have not received any assistance from the federal government in administering to the novel coronavirus, most pronouncedly in testing, PPE, and staffing costs.

“Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. will end up repeating the same mistakes from several months ago. We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in nursing homes and assisted living communities in this upcoming legislation,” Parkinson said.