Unvaccinated nursing home staff driving breakthrough COVID-19 outbreaks among residents, facilities say

COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents have been on the rise since July, likely driven by unvaccinated staff members, The New York Times reported Aug. 4. 

After months of declines, infections among residents have risen nearly four-fold from the week ending July 4 to the week ending Aug. 1, when 2,092 cases were reported — the highest number since February, according to CDC data cited by the Times

Six details: 

1. Nationwide, more than 80 percent of nursing home residents have been vaccinated against COVID-19. At the same time, 59.3 percent of nursing home staff members are vaccinated. The following states have less than 50 percent of current nursing home staff vaccinated: Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida and Louisiana, according to CMS data

2. COVID-19 cases among nursing home staff members are also on the rise, with 3,317 new infections and one death reported in the week ending Aug. 1, CDC data shows. 

3. Some nursing home facilities say unvaccinated staff are driving breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated residents. An official from Good Samaritan Society, a nonprofit nursing home chain that operates in 24 states, told the Times it's noticed an uptick in breakthrough cases among residents at the same facilities where unvaccinated staff were testing positive. It became one of the largest U.S. long-term care chains to mandate vaccines for staff in July. 

4. The nursing home industry has stopped short of supporting a vaccine mandate for facility staff due to concerns that such a requirement would worsen existing labor shortages. Some nursing home operators say without full industry backing, they can't afford to mandate the shot at their facilities. 

"I would love to mandate the vaccine and I believe it's the right thing to do," said Janet Snipes, executive director of Holly Heights nursing home in Denver. "But if the nursing home next door does not, I will lose my employees to it," she told the Times

5. Amid a national rise in cases fueled by the highly transmissible delta strain, first detected in India, Genesis Healthcare, one of the U.S. largest nursing home operators, recently announced it will require vaccines for all staff members by Aug. 23, saying "while we would have greatly preferred a strictly voluntary process, our commitment to health and safety outweighs concerns about imposing a requirement." 

6. Some states and cities have introduced their own mandates for long-term care employees, the Times reports. Massachusetts set an Oct. 1 deadline for all nursing home staff to be fully vaccinated. In California, unvaccinated healthcare workers must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Meanwhile, Colorado has adopted a rule requiring unvaccinated staff members to undergo rapid COVID-19 testing every shift. 


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