The state’s nursing homes report continued increases in COVID-19 infection rates as staff shortages mount, raising concern over their ability to deal with another potential surge in infections this fall.
For the two-week period ending May 10, there were 478 infections among nursing home residents in Connecticut, compared to 85 infections reported for the two-week period ending April 12.
So far, for the single week ending May 18, there were 256 cases and three deaths reported in state nursing homes, as well as 251 staff infections.
The uptick mirrors the statewide positivity rate increase. On Friday the rate rose to more than 14 percent on a seven-day average statewide. The average dropped to 12 percent on Monday.
“There is a well-documented and verified relatedness between the spread of COVID in state...and the prevalence of COVID in congregate settings serving the elderly, such as nursing homes and assisted living communities,” said Matthew Barrett, president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities/Connecticut Center for Assisted Living.
“Regrettably, as Connecticut continues to surge with a new omicron variant, Connecticut nursing home numbers are rising,” Barrett said. “While the percentage of nursing home infections is a small fraction compared to onset in the spring of 2020, the sheer magnitude of the recent omicron numbers means that Connecticut nursing home cases are significantly on the rise. Similarly, the number of fatalities is a small percentage, but the large number of cases will mean more fatalities. Again at a much smaller percentage.”
The numbers show that thousands of nursing home residents are avoiding the severe consequences of the virus compared to the early days of the pandemic. But the state’s nursing homes are ill equipped to respond to a dramatic surge expected in the fall due to staffing shortages in the industry, Barrett said.
“Unaddressed nursing home staffing and unreimbursed nursing home staffing costs could interrupt hospital discharges to nursing homes as hospital cases rise,” Barrett stated in an email. “This is being monitored carefully we understand by state public health officials. Nursing homes face the most severe staffing shortages ever experienced.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anticipate an ongoing surge over the summer and an even more dramatic increase in cases in the fall.
“This means that Connecticut must stay focused on addressing staffing shortages and staffing related cost increase issues in nursing homes,” Barrett said.
Locally, state data updated May 19 revealed Apple Rehab Coccomo on Cone Avenue in Meriden had eight residents and two staff who tested positive for the virus. The Southington Care Center reported eight staff and eight resident infections, and The Summit of Plantsville had eight residents who tested positive.
iCare Health, which operates a chain of health care facilities including Silver Springs in Meriden, has not seen an increase in its centers, but has three centers in outbreak mode, which is defined by at least one case.
“In those situations we are dealing with one to three cases per center,” said David Skoczulek, vice president of business development. “Certainly not widespread, but each case and resulting outbreak is met with guidance from our corporate clinical team and local and state public health authorities to minimize any spread.”
Skoczulek credits high vaccination and recovery rates among residents and staff for keeping numbers down. Cohorting and mask use continues to be effective, he said, but the impact of high antibody presence leaves fewer places for the virus to spread.
iCare has not had staffing shortages but is continuing to recruit more workers, and has utilized a greater than usual number of agency pool nurses, Skoczulek said.
Health care providers are asking visitors to be mindful of their health and where they’ve been prior to visiting elderly residents. Overall, most visitors are cognizant and considerate, they said.
“Visitation is incredibly important for our residents for their sense of wellbeing, recovery, normalcy and more,” Skoczulek said. ”It is important for visitors to consider their risk status before they visit including their exposures and vaccine status and to use PPE appropriately. And of course not to visit if they feel ill.”
Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.