According to a federal government report, 60,000 nursing home residents have been infected with COVID-19 and over 25,000 have died so far. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said that the virus has infected 34,000 nursing home staff members and killed over 400 of them.
These numbers are the first to provide information from the 15,000 nursing homes that receive funding from CMS, which is only about 80% of these facilities. It’s important to note that the nursing homes were told to only include cases since early May. Despite this limited time frame, CMS officials feel that these numbers provide a consistent picture of the hardest hit nursing homes across the country.
A CMS analysis of the data shows that nursing homes who have poor marks for nurse staffing and patient care had higher case counts. However, analyses done by the industry say that the location and size of a nursing home are better indicators of whether or not an outbreak is likely to occur at a specific facility. Beth Martino, senior vice president of public affairs for American Health Care Association, stated, “the amount of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes has been directly linked to the level of the virus in the surrounding local community.”
CMS’s response to the volume of infections is to strengthen enforcement of infection control practices. One way they hope to accomplish this is by distributing $80 million to states to escalate the frequency of inspections. If states don’t comply by the end of July, they’ll need to submit a corrective plan and if they still don’t comply by August, they’ll lose some money. Officials at CMS feel that this will “help to prevent backsliding, improve accountability and ensure prompt compliance.” The problem is that many nursing homes struggled with infection control before the pandemic.
For those not in nursing homes, there’s a new study recently published in the Lancet that you should be aware of. It found that we should be staying at least three feet apart in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. In a separate review of published studies that was funded by the World Health Organization (WHO), researchers examined the data from 172 studies from 16 countries across six continents. This review discovered that staying three feet away from others reduces your chance of catching the virus by 80%, wearing a mask decreases your risk by up to 85% and wearing goggles, glasses or a face shield diminishes it by up to 78%.
The main message we should be taking from this information is that physical distancing matters and when you can’t be physically distant, like on public transit, in stores and in other indoor spaces, you should be wearing a mask. For the general public, this should be a cloth mask or a standard surgical mask. The experts did make sure to point out that even with using all these safety measures the reduction in risk doesn’t become zero. This is why it’s still essential to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.