Amid a sometimes chaotic rollout of vaccines across the United States, health experts say a glimmer of good news has emerged: Recent reports of coronavirus cases in nursing homes have declined for the past four weeks, according to federal data.
The country recorded 17,584 cases in nursing homes during the week ending on Jan. 17, according to the federal data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A month earlier, during the week ending on Dec. 20, more than 32,500 cases were reported.
In part, the development reflects a downward trend in new cases across the country, health experts said. Coronavirus cases in nursing homes are driven by infections in the rest of the community, said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, so one can expect to see cases at long-term care facilities drop when the numbers are declining elsewhere.
But the decline in cases in nursing homes is more pronounced than it is nationally, and it also began earlier, Dr. Jha said. Residents in nursing homes have been prioritized as among the first groups to get the vaccine. “That combination really does make me think this is not just broad national patterns, but that vaccines probably are playing a role,” Dr. Jha said. “I’m optimistic, this is good.” Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that as of Saturday, more than 3.5 million shots have now been administered in long-term care facilities, including to workers and residents.
Still, a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout in nursing homes has been deeply frustrating, Dr. Jha said. Efforts to efficiently give shots to all nursing home residents should be a top priority, he said, adding, “Once that’s in, then we should feel really confident that these declines will continue and we will not see a spike back up, even if we see one in the national picture.”
Nursing homes have been devastated by the virus. Although 5 percent of the country’s cases have occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths related to Covid-19 in these settings have accounted for about 36 percent of deaths from the virus in the country, according to a New York Times database.
In New York, new reports of cases among residents in nursing homes run by the state health facilities association — which includes 425 skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities — have been steadily declining since the first and second week of January, said Stephen Hanse, the president and chief executive of the association.
“Throughout the state, providers really saw the cases reducing, residents stabilizing,” he said, adding that it’s too early to tell if the drop is directly linked to the number of vaccine doses being administered. A large majority of residents in the association’s facilities — at least 80 percent — have now received their second dose of the vaccine, Mr. Hanse said. Nursing home administrators and directors “really see the vaccine as the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.