The U.S. is experiencing another surge of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in nursing homes. During the early months of the pandemic, nursing homes quickly became ground zero for coronavirus outbreaks across the country. While the cases subdued somewhat in the fall, the facilities are now seeing their most intense surge in coronavirus cases. As new cases break record after record, infections at those facilities hit a new high in late November. The situation in nursing homes is dire because they house the highest at-risk senior population and patients with multiple underlying health issues.
Between late May and late November, the number of COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and employees quadrupled. More than 82,000 nursing home residents and employees have died from the virus since the pandemic began. Despite making up 5.8% of all U.S. COVID cases, 40% of recorded deaths have occurred in nursing homes.
COVID-19 Driving an Epidemic of Loneliness in Nursing Homes
When the pandemic hit, nursing homes across the country isolated their residents in an attempt to prevent infection. They shut their doors to visitors and family members, confined residents to their rooms, and suspended communal meals and group activities. When limited visits are allowed, physical contact between residents and family members is barred.
As a result, residents have been exposed to severe isolation, which significantly increases the risk of premature death from all causes. Social isolation and loneliness are typically linked to diminished sleep quality, reduced executive function, higher blood pressure, and accelerated physical and mental health decline. Over time, socially distanced residents become sicker than expected, and some die sooner.
Many Nursing Homes Have Suffered Staffing Shortages
Exhaustion and fatigue are pestering the country’s nursing homes. In late May, 14% of nursing homes reported a shortage of nurses and caregivers. That number has now grown to 18% as more workers contract the virus. Surviving workers are worn down, stressed out, and cracking under the strain as the coronavirus peaks again.
As of November 15, the number of infected nursing home staffers has increased progressively to a total of more than 250,000. Finding replacements during these uncertain times is difficult, if not impossible. In a business with a history of shortage and high turnover, COVID-19 creates more room for neglect, abuse, and poor quality of care.