Advocates for the nation’s skilled nursing centers and assisted living communities have sent a letter to the National Governors Association and state governors urging them to prioritize COVID vaccine distribution to all long term care facilities.

Highlights from the letter from the leaders of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) include:

--The average age of residents in long term care facilities is 85; almost every one of them has an underlying health condition, and some have multiple chronic conditions. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, the risk of mortality in this age group is 630 times higher than those 18 to 29 years old.
--COVID-19 also runs counter to everything known about infection control. Normal infection control is symptom related. What makes the virus particularly vicious is the fact that a person can contract it, show no symptoms, and unknowingly spread it.
--Data show that nearly 40 percent of individuals with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. The highly contagious nature of the virus in congregate settings, namely long term care facilities, opens the door for rapid spread.
--The combination of these factors, as well as a severe lack of personal protective equipment and testing at the outset, led to a disproportionate impact on long term care residents. Current data show that while COVID-19 cases in all long term care facilities account for 8 percent of total cases nationwide, they account for 41 percent of all COVID-19 related deaths.

In the letter, signed by Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of AHCA/NCAL, and Scott Tittle, executive director of NCAL, the pair said, “These tragic deaths also include hundreds of long term care staff members who are responsible for the care and services of the residents.”

Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of staff have fought on the frontlines, working night and day to protect those who are most at risk, the letter said.

“The around-the-clock care they provide requires close contact with our residents. As a result, many have become infected with the virus. These individuals also are at risk of contracting the virus in their community. Even with the most stringent screening and testing protocols, the asymptomatic and virulent nature of this virus makes it impossible to truly prevent entry into the building,” Parkinson and Tittle said.

They stated this is why independent research from top academics shows that community spread of the virus is directly correlated with outbreaks in nursing homes.

“If it is spreading at a high rate in a local community, it is all but certain to result in outbreaks in long term care settings. If we can vaccinate long term care residents and staff first, they will be less at risk in the event we see a rise in cases within our communities,” the letter said.

Visitation and engagement in social activities are important for residents’ health and well-being, and long term care providers are eager to help facilitate this.

“While recent steps have been taken to allow for safe visitation, it will continue to be restricted and limited until there is a vaccine,” Parkinson and Tittle said. Additionally, a recent poll found that most Americans support high-risk individuals receiving the vaccine first. This includes health care workers, seniors, and people with compromised immune systems, they added. 

Here is a link to a pdf version of the AHCA/NCAL letter.