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Advocates warn of “imminent outbreaks” in nursing homes as cases spike

About three-quarters of all cases in U.S. nursing homes have occurred in counties where the 7-day average rate of new cases of COVID-19 was more than 3.59 per 100,000 people. The statewide 7-day average in Alabama was 34.41 new cases per day per 100,000 as of Tuesday.

(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama’s nursing homes face dramatic increases in new novel coronavirus cases if current trends continue, according to two national organizations that are asking governors for “urgent attention and support.”

The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living sent a letter to the National Governors Association on Tuesday warning of the danger posed to long-term care facilities in places where new cases are surging.

Given the fact that the level of COVID in the community surrounding a nursing home is a leading indicator of cases in the facility, the major spikes of COVID cases in many states comes at a very challenging time as many states plan the reopening of long-term care facilities and return of visitations from loved ones,” the letter stated.

It cited research by Harvard Medical School, Brown University’s School of Public Health and University of Chicago that showed that a high rate of spread in a nursing home’s surrounding community is the primary factor in whether there is an outbreak at a facility.

About three-quarters of all cases in U.S. nursing homes have occurred in counties where the 7-day average rate of new cases of COVID-19 was more than 3.59 per 100,000 people. The statewide 7-day average in Alabama was 34.41 new cases per day per 100,000 as of Tuesday.

In Jefferson County, which has the most residents of any county in the state, the average number of new cases per day has been more than 200 per day in the last week. Per 100,000 people that is roughly 38.21 cases per day per 100,000 people.

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Two other of the state’s largest counties, Madison and Mobile, also broke 100 average new daily cases last week.

There are 231 nursing homes in Alabama. So far, 195 have reported at least one resident or employee who have tested positive for the virus. Some still have infected residents and others are reported to be COVID-free.

As of Wednesday, 1,183 people in the state have died of COVID-19. The death toll increased by 87 in the last two days alone. Of those who have died from COVID-19 in Alabama, 931 — or 79 percent — have been seniors 65 or older.

John Matson, director of communications for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, said that his organization is focused on reopening nursing homes to visitors once the state allows it. It will happen at the discretion of each facility, he said, as there is no set number that the rate of spread in the local community would need to drop to.

The letter of concern to governors said that visitation is important to the well-being of nursing home residents. To do it safely, it made three key requests:

  • Expedited lab processing time and on-site testing with reliable and rapid results
  • Additional support for personal protective equipment — especially N-95 masks
  • Close coordination between state officials and long term care providers 

Matson said the ANHA supports the letter and is in a good position to get the support it needs.

“We’re fortunate to have a strong working relationship with Gov. Ivey’s office,” he said.

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Micah Danney is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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