Nursing homes in the Midwest have seen a 400% spike in COVID-19 cases since September

NOW: Nursing homes in the Midwest have seen a 400% spike in COVID-19 cases since September

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Data show nursing homes have seen the worst increase yet in new COVID-19 cases since the spring. In fact, new cases in Midwest facilities have surged by more than 400-percent since September, according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

Federal data also show out of all the COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, anywhere from 4,400 to nearly 9,000 cases are nursing home residents.

“It’s devastating,” said Rick Abrams, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, people ages 70 to 90 and older have accounted for 77-percent of COVID-19 deaths in the state.

The increased spread in nursing and long-term facilities mirrors community spread.

“It can be a 5-star facility or it can be a questionable facility,” said Abrams. “Again, in all cases that spread in the facility is going to be directly related back out into the community.”

Abrams says it’s a combination of people who bring the infection inside.

“The infection clearly comes into the facility from outside the facility so it could be a visitor, it could be an employee,” he adds.

The Milwaukee Health Department says they are doing their part to support nursing homes and other organizations with contact tracing and lab work. They commend facilities for doing theirs when someone tests positive.

We are doing our best and I think our lab has risen to the occasion, I think our contact tracers have risen to the occasion, but that is not without the help of those particular organizations as it relates to contact tracing and being very cooperative in regards to mitigation steps,” said Marlaina Jackson, interim health commissioner for the city of Milwaukee.

State data show currently Milwaukee County has 113 active nursing home and long-term care facility investigations, surrounding communities total up to hundreds more.

Abrams says amid the surge, staffing shortages are also a major problem.

“It’s been exacerbated because of the infection rates, you know, once an employee tests positive, he or she needs to be taken off the floor,” says Abrams.

Governor Tony Evers announced CARES Act funding for nursing facilities in late November, which Abrams says is currently being distributed for PPE supplies and staff hiring.

“Either on a temporary basis through a temporary staffing agency—or hopefully permanent hires,” adds Abrams.

Meanwhile, Abrams says the biggest impact the community can have to help long-term care and nursing homes is to wash your hands, distance and mask up.

“Hopefully a downward slope to that curve and that’s the goal, and if that occurs you will see a like result in our facilities,” said Abrams.  

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, a majority of CDC vaccine advisers also voted to recommend that both health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities be first in line for any coronavirus vaccines that receive emergency authorization by the FDA.

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