Story at a glance

  • Data gathered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reveals the fatal toll COVID-19 had on nursing home residents.
  • In April 2020, up to 1,000 residents were dying per day compared to the same data from April 2019.
  • Officials say this information will help authorities in fighting similar outbreaks.

A new report underscores the devastating toll COVID-19 took on nursing home residents, outlining an overall increase in the mortality rate of nursing home residents by 32 percent in 2020 compared to year-over-year data.

Released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the report looks at 2020 data on the number of nursing home residents and Medicare beneficiaries who were either diagnosed with or likely had COVID-19, as well as those who died from causes related to the virus. 

The results indicate that the overall mortality rate rose by 32 percent, and numerical death statistics showed that in April 2020 alone, as the pandemic peaked in the U.S., 81,484 Medicare beneficiaries in nursing homes died. 

This amounts to a 1,000-person increase in fatalities per day compared with April 2019 rates.


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Among those in nursing homes and on Medicare who were diagnosed with COVID-19 in 2020, 51 percent were Black, compared to 41 percent who were white.

Hispanic and Asian residents also experienced a higher chance of testing positive for the virus than their white counterparts. This coincides with national data noting Black, Hispanic and Native Americans are more likely to suffer severe illnesses related to COVID-19, part of longstanding racist disparities in access to health care.

The authors noted that this data can help illustrate how to handle future outbreaks among nursing home residents and staff to better prevent high mortality rates. 

“We knew this was going to be bad, but I don’t think even those of us who work in this area thought it was going to be this bad,” David Grabowski, a Harvard health policy professor, told The Associated Press.

One of the first COVID-19 outbreaks to occur on U.S. soil was at the Kirkland Nursing Home outside of Seattle, Washington. There 35 people, workers and residents, died from COVID-19, and roughly 66 percent tested positive for the virus. 

Inspector General Nancy Harrison, who helped author the report, said that the country needs to learn from the disproportionate impact COVID-19 had on nursing homes.

“Hopefully, COVID will go away,” she said to AP reporters. “But once that happens, there will always be infectious diseases, and we all need to ask ourselves what we can do to protect vulnerable nursing home residents going forward.”


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Published on Jun 22, 2021