About 1.3 million people live in the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes, according to the CDC. And most nursing homes have had problems managing infections even when there is not a pandemic. More than 2,600 deaths nationwide have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, an alarming rise in just the past two weeks, according to the latest count by The Associated Press. Because the Trump Administration refuses to track or release a count of its own, the AP has kept its own running tally based on media reports and state health departments. The latest count of at least 4,000 deaths is up from about 450 deaths just 12 days ago. But the true toll among the 1 million mostly frail and elderly people who live in such facilities is likely much higher, experts say, because most state counts don’t include those who died without ever being tested for COVID-19. Experts say the deaths may keep climbing because of chronic staffing shortages in nursing homes that have been made worse by the coronavirus crisis, a shortage of protective supplies and a continued lack of available testing. Seventy-five percent of U.S. nursing homes have been cited for failing to properly monitor and control infections in the past three years, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal inspection data published last month.
The incomplete picture of what is currently known about COVID-19 in nursing homes comes from a patchwork of data collected at the local and state level. A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said nursing homes are required to follow their local and state reporting requirements, but she did not respond to questions about why the agency is not tracking the number nationally. CDC spokesman Scott Pauley said the agency used “informal outreach” to state health departments late last month to estimate that 400 nursing homes had positive cases. The number has not been updated for months.
“The CDC doesn’t necessarily need to track them,” Pauley said. “Each state is tracking their own.” USA TODAY found that is not true. South Carolina is not tracking residents with COVID-19.
Francine Rico, who has worked at Villa at Windsor Park for nearly 23 years, said she found out that a resident she had worked with had tested positive for COVID-19 from a co-worker who happened to take the call from the hospital where the resident was tested. She said her facility’s administrators were not upfront.
“I’m mad because we are frontline workers but we have been lied to,” she said. “They put our lives on the line. They have put our residents’ lives on the line.”