Study Names Factors in Severest Nursing Home COVID Outbreaks

Early on in the pandemic, nursing homes across the country found themselves at its devastating bull’s eye, with residents and staff of these facilities making up roughly 30 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. between May 2020 and February 2021.

Posted on February 10, 2023

A government watchdog’s newly released report examined federal data to determine what factors were most closely associated with the longest nursing home COVID-19 outbreaks.

Nursing Home COVID Outbreaks Averaged 4 Weeks in Length

Using data from June 2020 through December 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that nursing home COVID-19 outbreaks last four weeks on average. Significantly more severe outbreaks occurred in nursing homes that were enduring shortages in staffing and that were located in communities with higher transmission rates.

Longer outbreaks were also more likely to occur in nursing homes with larger patient populations – more than 100 beds – and that were nonprofit or owned by the government.

More than 90 percent of the nursing homes in the study experienced at least one outbreak that lasted five weeks or more during this period. Nursing homes reported that most of their COVID-19 outbreaks were sparked by a staff member who tested positive.

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      The Biggest Challenges

      Among the biggest challenges nursing home officials said they faced during these outbreaks were staff shortages and staff morale.

      Beyond that, they cited a lack of personal protective equipment, limited space where residents could be quarantined, and declining mental and physical health among residents as added obstacles.

      The GAO reviewed federal data from more than 15,000 nursing homes nationwide, in addition to interviewing researchers and national associations as well as various officials across four states.

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