Delta variant raises concerns about outbreaks in long-term care facilities

Delta variant raises concerns about outbreaks in long-term care facilities

In Indiana, seven residents died recently at an unnamed facility where less than half of the staff was vaccinated, local health officials said earlier this month. Cases have also been rising in Southern states, including in Louisiana and Texas. “It’s going to be imperative that we continue as health care workers and health care staff in long-term care settings to increase our vaccination rates among those employees, which are still below 50 percent across the state, and lower in some facilities,” he said. The primary concern among experts and advocates is over the low number of vaccinated staff in some states, especially in the South, reflecting the challenge of uneven vaccination rates across the country.

In Mississippi, the state epidemiologist said Wednesday there were more than 100 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the state, 72 of which were in nursing homes. The fears come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns delta is “highly contagious, likely to be more severe” and that although rare, “breakthrough infections may be as transmissible as unvaccinated cases.”

“The primary driver of those nursing home outbreaks are infections in unvaccinated staff and employees,” Dr. Paul Byers said during a video news conference. “Regrettably, in some cases, these infections are spilling over into the residents and into fully vaccinated residents at times.” Some of those cases among residents did result in severe illness, he said. While experts said there is no data yet to suggest Covid cases are spiking widely in long-term care facilities and nursing homes nationwide, in some places, including Mississippi and Indiana, officials have said unvaccinated workers are spreading the virus.

AARP has been tracking vaccination rates among staff as well as monitoring ongoing cases in residents, he said. There have been small increases in cases and some signs of rising cases among workers, and Houser said the worry is this could eventually lead to a larger increase. “We’re hoping that we don’t see a big increase, but we’re concerned that we will, especially in the states with low vaccination rates,” he said. Houser said while things have gotten much better since the height of the pandemic, “Covid never went away, and because it’s still circulating among nursing homes in every state and among communities in every state, there remains the potential for it to re-establish and have another spike.”

Ari Houser, a senior methods adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, said the group’s worry is the interaction between low vaccination rates in the community enabling the virus to surge and low vaccination rates among staff increasing the likelihood of bringing Covid into a nursing home and “making those residents vulnerable if the virus does get in.” Nationally, some 58 percent of staff and 81 percent of residents in nursing homes have been vaccinated, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But those numbers can vary greatly depending on the state, with Louisiana, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky ranking among the lowest, with less than 50 percent of staff having completed their vaccinations.

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