By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]
There’s good news regarding COVID-19 in longterm care facilities both across the United States and in Virginia.
Nationwide, the number of cases in LTCFs has dropped dramatically in recent weeks after peaking in December 2020. According to the Wall Street Journal, 15,154 nationwide cases of COVID-19 were reported in nursing homes for the week ending Jan. 24, which was the fifth straight week of falling cases in those facilities. By contrast, nationwide COVID-19 cases in nursing homes surpassed 32,000 in the week ending Dec. 20 – more than double the current level.
In Virginia, the good news pertains to the number of outbreaks. While there were 46 new outbreaks in LTCFs between Dec. 6 and 12, 2020, that number had dropped to 22 outbreaks reported in LTCFs around the state for the week of Jan. 24 to 30, then to 12 between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6. This was the lowest weekly total of new outbreaks in almost four months, since the week of Oct. 11 to 17, 2020 when there were eight outbreaks.
The exception was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, which seems be a holiday-caused statistical anomaly with only four total outbreaks reported across all categories. The week prior had 86 outbreaks and the week following, 73.
The Virginia Department of Health website tracks outbreaks in a variety of facilities in addition to LTCFs: congregate, correctional, healthcare, childcare, K-12 educational and college or university.
The sharp decline of COVID-19 cases in LTCFs is closely correlated with the rollout of the vaccine, with residents and staff at senior facilities among the first to be vaccinated in phase 1a, which began in December.
For instance, the first round of residents and staff at Goodwin House in Alexandria were vaccinated on Dec. 29. Given that there’s a couple week lag between when a person receives the vaccine and when they build some immunity – plus a three to four-week gap between receiving the first and second doses of the vaccine – noticeable differences would not have been expected before mid-to-late January. This is what happened in Virginia.
Even more encouraging is that this sharp decline in COVID-19 cases in nursing homes nationwide has taken place despite the fact that more than 86% of people had only received the initial dose of the vaccine, according to the Wall Street Journal. This would seem to indicate a significant level of protection is obtained from the first dose alone. Nationwide, 2.7 million LTCF residents and staff had received the first dose of the vaccine as of Jan. 31, according to the Wall Street Journal, but only 366,000 had been administered the second dose.
Long-term care facilities were the entities hardest hit by both the initial wave of COVID-19 last spring, as well as the deadly spike of cases that began in October.
Older people appear to be particularly vulnerable to the disease, which is why LTCFs were prioritized in vaccination group 1a, while residents age 75 and older are the top priority in group 1b.