Despite our best efforts to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus spread, the infection has resulted in a worldwide pandemic. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over 2.1 million people infected with COVID-19. Unfortunately, nursing home residents are already at a higher risk of the spread of respiratory infection and disease, and COVID-19 is particularly contagious.
As part of Pintas & Mullins Law Firm’s commitment to providing personal injury victims with the best possible safety, prevention, and legal assistance, we will update this blog post weekly. With up-to-date information on the latest recommendations, we can help stop the coronavirus spread and reduce the impact of the impending second wave.
Coming Out of Quarantine
NBC News offers a complete timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic, from its start in the Chinese city of Wuhan. One of the most notable elements in the timeline of the novel coronavirus is the lifting of lockdown and quarantine restrictions in mid-May 2020. After virtually shutting down all non-essential jobs, asking people to stay in their homes, and closing public gathering areas, states began to “re-open,” starting with store reopenings in Maine on May 8th.
The plan is to gradually ease protective restrictions while still maintaining many of the social distancing practices that have been put into place across the country. These include:
- Wearing personal protective equipment, such as masks over the mouth and nose
- Keeping at least six feet apart from other people
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water
Even with these rules in place, epidemiologists anticipate a second wave of the virus later this year. According to computer models run by experts at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the United States should experience this second spike in coronavirus cases around September 15th.
Why Nursing Homes Are High-Risk
Nursing homes are a hotbed for COVID-19 infection due to a variety of factors. Sadly, the elderly and immuno-compromised are particularly susceptible to coronavirus, so the prevalence of the disease in nursing homes can cause significant damage. Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) make this problem explicit:
- 95,515 confirmed cases of nursing home residents nationwide contracting COVID-19
- 31,782 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 (nearly a third of all confirmed cases)
- Almost 60,000 suspected cases of the illness
These numbers are staggering, mainly because the U.S. total death toll (as of June 17th) is 116,140. Nearly a third of those deaths represent residents in nursing homes. So why are nursing home residents at such a high risk? There are a few reasons.
Many nursing homes are packed with residents, which means that these residents must live close to each other. Viruses like COVID-19 are easily transmitted among a population that mainly stays in one location. This phenomenon is often mirrored in the home. For example, a young child might bring a virus back from school, infecting the entire family. Nursing homes can function in much the same way, as the virus passes from person to person, carried into the residency by visitors or medical staff.
Weakened Immune Systems
Another common issue that makes nursing homes high-risk for coronavirus outbreaks is that residents of nursing homes often struggle with chronic illnesses. Many of these illnesses already affect the respiratory system, which is the primary target of COVID-19. When the immune system is already struggling to combat various chronic diseases, it is less able to prevent new viruses like COVID-19 from attacking a person’s body.
According to the Nursing Home Abuse Guide, about 90% of nursing homes are understaffed. While nurses and doctors do what they can to help residents and meet their needs, lack of staff means that each resident’s time is greatly diminished. It also means a higher number of residents served by the same nurse or doctor. If that nurse or doctor (who travels in and out of the nursing home) carries COVID-19, they can transfer the virus to other residents.
For a free legal consultation, call 800-934-6555
CDC Recommendations for Nursing Homes
Nursing homes are long-term care facilities. It is not feasible to shut them down during a pandemic, as many residents have nowhere else to go. Some may have no living family members, while others’ families may lack the ability and know-how to care for their relatives at home properly. So what is to be done?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed its recommendations on preparing for COVID-19 in nursing homes. With the implementation of these protocols, the spread of coronavirus among nursing home residents can be contained, treated, and kept under control.
- Have at least one person trained in infection prevention and control (IPC)
- Report infection cases to the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) Long-term Care Facility (LTCF) COVID-19 Module
- Inform visitors, staff, and residents of new COVID-19 procedures and risks
- Enforce the wearing of masks among residents, staff, and visitors (if allowed entrance), excepting unconscious residents or residents with respiratory issues
- Encourage alternative visitation methods like teleconferencing
- Develop a COVID-19 testing plan
- Extend non-punitive sick leave policies for staff
- Develop a plan for accepting new residents, including testing procedures
Statistics from FREOPP
The risk posed to people who live in nursing homes by COVID-19 is huge. New reports from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP) show just how severe the matter is. Some essential points are listed below.
People in Nursing Homes Are Affected Worse Than Others
About 0.2% of Americans live in nursing homes or assisted living centers. However, they account for around 43% of all deaths related to COVID-19. Some estimates list residents of nursing homes as more than half of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths.
Older Adults Account for Most Cases
In other startling reports, FREOPP says that patients aged 65 or older account for more than 80% of all COVID-19 deaths. As states continue to “reopen,” the elderly are particularly at risk for infection and serious injury.
Effects of COVID-19
Even in “less serious” cases of the virus, symptoms can be devastating. The Mayo Clinic lists many common symptoms related to COVID-19:
- Trouble breathing
- Lack of taste or smell
If you live in a nursing home, you may also show other symptoms like blue lips from lack of breath, lots of sleeping, pains in your chest, and even confusion. Sadly, COVID-19 also causes problems with chronic illnesses, which many people in nursing homes have. You may suffer heart problems and blood clots or get sick from other viruses while you are weak from COVID-19.
Complete a Free Case Evaluation form now
Nursing Home Lawsuit News
If you get COVID-19 in a nursing home, it might be due to weak safety measures or a lack of staff training. In that case, you may want to file a lawsuit. However, as the Washington Post reports, both state and federal governments have considered legislation that makes it harder than usual to sue a nursing home.
This makes it even more difficult for you to get justice. Nursing home abuse and medical malpractice are already difficult cases that should not be pursued without a lawyer.
COVID-19 in Nursing Homes: Death Toll Crosses 50,000
Aging parents. Limited resources. The need for better care and constant medical attention. Companionship.
There are many reasons why families approach nursing homes for care and support. About 1.4 million Americans depend on nursing homes for their care. Unfortunately, nursing homes are being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., and the number of deaths has skyrocketed.
Recently, the COVID-19 death toll at nursing homes crossed 50,000. There are more than 250,000 residents and staffers at nursing homes who have been infected by the coronavirus.
Research shows that buildings that house and care for seniors are linked to more than 40% of the deaths because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Insufficient Resources and Conditions of Neglect
Even in the best of times, nursing homes are particularly susceptible to disease outbreaks because they have an aging population, with a number of underlying conditions, housed in very close quarters.
It’s no surprise that the highly contagious novel coronavirus has been spreading with such rapidity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “nursing home populations are at high risk of being affected by respiratory pathogens like COVID-19 and other pathogens, including multidrug-resistant organisms.”
Poor planning and management have caused infections and fatalities at nursing homes to skyrocket:
- Some nursing homes have been cited multiple times for failing to take measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In some cases, in spite of passing the IDPH inspection, temporary restraining orders are in place for these facilities.
- Workers at homes have been reported to not even be wearing personal protective equipment.
- Testing for coronavirus has remained low across the board, even though governors have ordered universal testing in multiple states.
- General negligence and abuse also result in poor health conditions.
Even if one case of COVID-19 is found in a nursing home, residents and their families must be informed. Individual facilities have been ordered to disclose confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes to the CDC and make the information public. Unfortunately, these directions are not being followed.
The CDC website has a comprehensive set of guidelines for nursing homes to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include guidelines for prevention of infection, how to conduct facility-wide COVID-19 testing, what to do if a patient tests positive, and additional resources for nursing homes with mental care units.
Even with this framework in place, nursing homes are somehow not able to slow the spread of coronavirus. Negligence in nursing homes has been a persistent problem and is even more concerning as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads through nursing homes at a faster rate than it does through the general community.
Nursing Home Negligence Is Common
Even though many families look to nursing homes to help take care of elderly loved ones, negligence and abuse are widespread in these homes.
Common problems seen in nursing homes include:
- Emotional abuse
- Medication errors
- Sexual abuse
Elderly people who are abused have a 300% higher risk of death than those who aren’t. This makes it even more important to protect our elderly populations, especially during a public health crisis.
What You Can Do
This is a stressful time for anyone with a loved one in a nursing home. As states begin to ease lockdowns, nursing homes are weighing the risks and allowing some in-person visits.
This will allow us to see our loved ones and their nursing home in person. If you suspect any negligence or lack of care and precaution, ensure that you take the required steps to keep your loved one safe.
A clear line of communication with your loved one is critical during this pandemic. Try to check in with them regularly via video or phone, even if an in-person visit is still not allowed in their nursing home.
We Can Help
As nursing homes struggle to cope with the coronavirus crisis, many residents are falling sick in record numbers, and many others are being neglected. You might be wondering about what legal steps you can take to ensure the safety of your loved ones in a nursing home.
Our firm handles nursing home cases nationwide and can help you deal with any suspected negligence or abuse at your loved one’s nursing home. Our lawyers are here for you 24/7, and we’re honored to continue serving you as always during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reach out to us at (800) 842-6336 for a free consultation.
New Testing Guidelines Rolled Out
On June 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced new testing guidelines for nursing homes to help slow the spread of COVID-19. It seems that nursing home deaths and total cases of the virus are on the rise, so it is best to ensure that the nursing home where your loved one lives is following these tips. Some of the changes are listed below.
Suggestions for Workers
The CDC recommends taking nursing home workers’ temperatures before the start of every shift. If they show signs of fever or other COVID-19 symptoms, they should be tested promptly and excused from work until the test results come in.
Nursing homes should aim to test all residents for COVID-19. When able, testers should try to complete the tests within 48 hours so that nursing homes can take proper steps to ensure residents’ safety.
Another update is that the CDC does not recommend testing the same person more than once within 24 hours.
Also, nursing homes should test residents who show signs of COVID-19 for similar viruses that may cause those symptoms. For example, they should check for the flu.
Nursing Home Inspections Have Been Inadequate
Even as nursing homes struggle in the COVID-19 pandemic, only a little more than half of the country’s nursing homes were inspected to see if staff were following proper precautionary measures to halt the spread of coronavirus, according to a recent article by Politico.
A Politico survey unearthed several causes for this lack of oversight.
- Many states opted to provide personal protective (PPE) equipment to health workers instead of giving them to inspectors. This delayed in-person checks.
- Some states opted to conduct remote assessments, interviewing people via phone and reviewing documents. Experts believe this is inadequate. It means that inspectors are trusting providers to be honest about taking precautions during the pandemic rather than seeing the facility and noting any lapses for themselves.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services directed state agencies to inspect facilities for infection control practices, such as whether staff wash their hands or wear PPE while taking care of multiple patients. This was done in place of the annual routine inspections stopped by the Trump administration in March.
Infection control surveys released by the government only noted deficiencies in less than 3% of the surveys. A report released by nonprofit patient activist group Center for Medicare Advocacy said they do not believe that these surveys “accurately portray the extent of infection control deficiencies in U.S. nursing facilities.” This is especially true given the rapid spread of coronavirus in nursing homes.
The lack of in-person checks during the pandemic has prevented state authorities from checking for issues that might have quickened the spread of COVID-19. For example, family members couldn’t visit their loved ones, removing another mechanism to observe neglect.
Some States Fared Better
States like Pennsylvania, Idaho, and New Jersey blamed a lack of PPE as a roadblock to finishing their inspections. However, other states with severe coronavirus outbreaks in their nursing homes completed nearly all of their inspections regardless of PPE shortages.
Washington, where the Kirkland Life Care Center was a major epicenter for the spread of coronavirus, completed 99% of its inspections. Michigan, which reported nearly 2,000 deaths in nursing homes, completed nearly 85% of its inspections.
States like West Virginia and Maryland were woefully behind, with only 11.4% and 16.4% of facilities inspected by the end of May.
This has led many to question the explanation offered by states for lagging behind. Medicare and Medicaid administrator Seema Verma has directed states to complete inspection checks by July 31, threatening to cut federal recovery funds if they fail to comply.
Scientists Warn of Airborne Spread
Previously, the World Health Organization has downplayed the spread of novel coronavirus by airborne means. However, recent reports from the broader medical and scientific community are raising alarms. On July 7th, the WHO announced that it would begin looking into the possible airborne spread of COVID-19.
Until now, mist-like droplets in our breath were considered the primary way for the virus to infect others. However, TIME reports that 239 scientists signed a letter in Clinical Infectious Diseases warning that medical authorities are not paying enough attention to the possibility that COVID-19 can linger in the air. One of the signatories, Professor Linsey Marr from Virginia Tech, compared the viral spread to cigarette smoke. Just as the smoke initially stays near the smoker and then disperses throughout the area, so too could the virus.
What This Means for Nursing Homes
In some ways, this news should not change much in the operation of nursing homes. The wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly masks, is a cautionary measure to prevent the virus from dispersing through the air. However, the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other world health leaders, may announce additional measures to help decrease the spread of COVID-19. Check back here for more information weekly.
New Heat Map of COVID-19 in Nursing Homes Released
By gathering publicly available information released by various states, and by compiling data from its members, the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine has created a coronavirus heat map of the United States. The map displays the hot spots for COVID-19 spread in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the nation. Notably, the map is incomplete, as the following states have not made their collected data public: Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Missouri, Hawaii, and Arkansas. Also, New York has not released a comprehensive report of nursing home fatalities due to COVID-19, so the data for that state is also incomplete.
However, this new heat map should give you an idea of your loved one’s risk based on their location. In the following weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to release the data it has collected from states. Once this happens, the heat map will be updated and will be more accurate.
Personal Protective Equipment and the Heat Map
The Society’s heat map is a good way to judge the allocation of PPE (personal protective equipment). If your loved one lives in a facility located in a particularly “hot” state, you should expect their nursing home to engage in more rigorous protective measures. The failure of caregivers to wear masks or gloves while interacting with patients can be a sign of severe nursing home negligence that may warrant a lawsuit.
The White House Resumes Coronavirus Briefings
President Donald J. Trump announced that the White House would begin hosting meetings of a coronavirus task force, starting Tuesday, July 21, according to the Washington Post. While the move suggests that the country’s leadership is taking COVID-19 more seriously, the news may be too little, too late. Plus, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci was not invited to the meeting.
Other worrisome data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the United States may have up to 10 times as many cases of COVID-19 as previously reported.
Already, the CDC’s data on cases in the US is not promising. Though the past week has seen a slight decrease in the rate of new daily cases, the trend is still on the upswing with no sign of truly slowing. Check back here weekly for more updates on how the administration is planning to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
Experts Urge More Restrictions Among Nursing Homes
The CDC, while recognizing that each nursing home or long-term care facility will have to make its own decisions about restrictions, still says that the best situation to ensure the health of residents includes:
- Residents restricted from entering other residents’ rooms
- All personnel correctly wearing face masks
- Communal areas closed
- Social distancing of at least six feet at all times, if possible
- Perpetual health screenings every day for both residents and healthcare professionals
- No visitors or volunteers allowed
If you believe that your nursing home or your loved one’s nursing home has violated these guidelines, you might have a viable negligence case. The Attorneys at Pintas & Mullins can help you make things right.
Texas Nursing Homes Get Startling Data
In the past month, Texas has become known for leading the “re-opening” campaign, with many of the state’s facilities and businesses starting to operate at normal rates again. However, the push for a return to pre-COVID normalcy may be delayed, as nursing home data sheds a poor light on the situation.
With the month not quite over, the Texas Tribune reports that the number of incidents of positive COVID-19 cases in nursing homes has more than doubled in July. In fact, there were more than four times as many new incidents of COVID-19 in Texas nursing homes than there were in June.
In part, this increase in the viral spread may be due to some of the relaxed restrictions the state has become infamous for. In the past months, Texas has required nursing homes and assisted living facilities to test all staff members. In July, the state rolled back that requirement, instead testing on a targeted basis. The results do not appear promising.
News on Florida Nursing Homes
Reportedly, Florida governor Ron DeSantis may have a similar problem on his hands in the coming weeks. ABC News affiliate WEARTV reports that Governor DeSantis is in the process of considering the re-opening of nursing homes throughout Florida. According to DeSantis, the isolating experience of quarantine and lockdown may be of more harm than is necessary to the psyches of nursing home residents.
This news comes as somewhat of a surprise, given that Florida’s lockdown rollback measures have not gone according to plan. In fact, coronavirus death tolls are still on the rise. Still, the governor believes quick, 15-minute test kits can help to ensure that visitors to nursing homes do not carry the virus. This would allow physical and emotional interaction that, at least in the governor’s mind, may be worth the risk.
If you live in a state that is considering reopening its nursing homes, make sure to take necessary precautions before visiting a loved one. Wear proper protective equipment and limit physical interaction as much as possible.
If you think that your loved one’s health has suffered due to poor planning or nursing home negligence, get in touch with one of the attorneys on the Pintas & Mullins legal team as soon as possible.
Back-to-School Push May Spell Danger for Nursing Home Residents
As summer departs and August rolls in, school districts nationwide have either begun opening up to students or are considering in-person schooling options versus virtual learning.
According to USA Today, this push has added fuel to the fire of fear that surrounds COVID-19. Unfortunately, that is not without good reason. While it is true that children are the least at-risk group for infection and death related to COVID-19, TheScientist reports the results of a startling study: the youngest among us routinely carry between 10 and 100 times the volume of coronavirus than older age groups.
Translation: kids going back to school can be hotspots for the spread of coronavirus even if they don’t show outward symptoms of COVID-19. As they gather more of the virus unwittingly, they can spread it to their family members and, potentially, nursing home residents who are among the most vulnerable to the disease.
Since the push to reopen schools has been accompanied by a push to reopen nursing homes, assisted living facilities, businesses, and other institutions, another wave of viral outbreaks may be imminent.
We have the data now to show the risks involved with opening up nursing homes, as well as information about the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus. If you think your loved one’s nursing home reopened negligently, you may have a case for a lawsuit. Speak with our team at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm to get help on your side today.
White House Begins Instituting Mandatory Coronavirus Checks
In a move that hopefully means the administration is getting more on board with testing procedures, the White House will institute required testing among staff. Forbes reports that the president’s executive staff will have to submit to random mandatory tests for the virus despite previous comments made by the president and vice president against increased testing procedures.
The decision comes on the heels of five administration officials testing positive for the virus, including National Security advisor, Robert O’Brien. With the president engaging in testing for his staff, perhaps more testing will be the norm across the United States.
New Worries as Students in Georgia Face Quarantine
As states continue to wrestle with the implications of COVID-19, students in Georgia pay the price for reopening schools. The Cherokee County School District released information regarding over 1,000 students and faculty in 12 different schools on a mandatory quarantine order. According to ABC News, the decision comes after more than 70 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus were discovered in several district’s schools (with an epicenter at Etowah High School in Woodstock, GA.
The reopening of schools has been the subject of significant debate over the past month or so. Proponents stress the importance of personal interaction and socialization, while detractors place more emphasis on the risk of viral spread. In any case, the news from Georgia shows that students are not immune to the spread of the disease.
Impact on Nursing Homes
Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the rate of new cases across the United States is slowing. However, the number of daily cases is still as high as 40,000, indicating that the viral spread continues. As school districts prepare to reopen, examples like Cherokee County in Georgia show that the number of new coronavirus cases may skyrocket.
When this happens, nursing homes should be prepared to take increased security precautions to ensure their residents’ health and safety. Older Americans, and the infirm, are much more likely to contract COVID-19 and, once contracted, are more likely to suffer serious health consequences (even up to death). Failing to provide appropriate safety measures amidst a continuing pandemic is an open-and-shut example of nursing home negligence.
Schools and Nursing Homes Still at Risk Amid Lowering Rates
Monday, August 17, 2020 saw the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases across the nation compared to the previous two months, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. However, this should not be seen as a sure sign that infection rates and associated illnesses or deaths are set to decline.
For one thing, we have little information about the effect of opening schools during COVID-19’s spread. Schools are starting to reopen in many parts of the country. Scientists have warned that children (who were previously thought not to carry the disease) can in fact carry up to 100 times as much of the virus as adults. Mississippi, which is the state whose schools started opening first, has the highest rate of infection among students. This, plus the upcoming flu season, suggests that rates may start rising soon.
Additionally, the outlook on nursing homes is not great at the moment. A survey from the American Health Care Association found that 72% of facilities fear closing within the next year if they have to continue to operate under the current conditions, and 40% said that they may have to close within the next six months. On top of that, some 77% of nursing homes rely heavily on government funding to stay out of the financial red zone. Given that the week of June 26 saw a 77% increase in nursing home coronavirus cases, this presents an alarming challenge for nursing home facilities.
Trump Administration Announces Total Penalties for Nursing Homes
Under the direction of the Trump White House, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has fined nursing homes across the country a total of more than $15 million. After surveying and inspecting 99.2% of all nursing homes, CMS and state agencies found instances of more than 180 “jeopardy level” violations in infection control — triple the amount found in 2019. While you may worry about your loved one’s ability to find housing and medical care if a nursing home is fined and loses income, it is still important to hold nursing home administrators accountable for the safety of their residents.
What This Means for You
If your loved one is housed in one of the many nursing homes that were fined by CMS, you may have a case for nursing home negligence. It is the responsibility of nursing home administrators, boards, and staff to protect residents from increased risk of infection. With a disease like COVID-19, which already presents a higher risk for older and infirm residents, this responsibility becomes crucial.
If you think your loved one’s nursing home has not acted with due caution, or has violated nationwide or locally imposed safety measures, get in touch with Pintas & Mullins to discuss how you can go about getting compensation.
More Data Shows Growing COVID-19 Cases Among School Children
Though we have been keeping an eye on schools amid reopenings in many states, official data has finally come in from across the country — and it doesn’t look good.
According to CNN, new cases of COVID-19 among school-age children have increased by 21% from August 6 to August 20, 2020. From an initially estimated amount of 13 positive coronavirus cases per 100,000 children, the number has now increased to a whopping 583.2 cases per 100,000.
Given previous research showing that children as young as five years old may carry up to 100 times the virus as adults, this is alarming news. Luckily, researchers are quick to point out that severe illness cases due to infection are rare among children.
Still, more children with the virus present the possibility of further spread and infection as those children bring the virus home from school. This also means an increased risk for nursing home visitors to carry the virus into their loved one’s residence unwittingly. It will be crucial for nursing homes to institute proper safety protocols to safeguard the already at-risk population in their charge in the coming weeks and months.
Confirmed Reinfection Reports
NBC News reports that a man in Hong Kong is now the first confirmed reinfection of COVID-19. The man originally contracted the virus in late March and was discharged from the hospital in early April. He tested positive for coronavirus again four months later. This time, the virus was a slightly different genomic strain from his initial infection, proving that it was indeed an actual second infection and not merely a holdover from his first bout with COVID-19. The man shows no symptoms as of this report, and researchers stress that this only confirms what is already common among other coronaviruses. It is no cause for alarm, they say.
However, it is known that antibodies in the blood of previously infected people seem to wane over months. This, coupled with the new information about reinfection, may suggest that any immunity gained from vaccination may be short-lived (much like flu vaccines, which require yearly updates).
At the very least, these findings indicate that strict safety precautions may become standard for nursing homes in the future.
State and Federal Governments Recognize the Vulnerability of Nursing Homes
As the saying goes, better late than never. State governments across the country and the federal government have recognized the vulnerability of nursing home residents and are turning these concerns into actionable measures.
As an example of how some states are working to protect nursing home residents, Virginia’s Senate has proposed a bill to put those residents (and nursing home staff) at the front of the line for COVID-19 testing. The bill is still being considered, with Governor Ralph Northam’s office concerned that it might curtail the ability of health officials to “adapt to this ever-evolving virus,” according to VPM News.
The Federal Response
The White House has a somewhat spotty history with its response to and treatment of the coronavirus crisis. However, the Trump administration recently announced the distribution of $2.5 billion (half of a planned $5 billion) to nursing homes across the country.
As reported by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the money supplements the more than $4.9 billion already provided. The hope is that increased funding will help alleviate the financial stressors on nursing homes and give more residential facilities access to testing and treatment procedures.
The United States Decides Not to Participate in Global Push for Vaccine
Unfortunately, there is also negative news this week. After withdrawing the United States from the World Health Organization in July because of alleged deference to China, the Trump administration has announced that it will not participate in the WHO-backed multilateral efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Over 170 countries worldwide have signed onto the agreement, known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (Covax, for short).
Instead, the United States will engage in “Operation Warp Speed,” a plan to develop a vaccine on its terms. The President has, in recent weeks, expressed interest in treatments involving convalescent blood plasma (plasma from individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 and developed antibodies). However, the WHO and other experts warn that there is insufficient evidence that this treatment provides relief.
According to Voice of America, Surie Moon, the co-director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, called the United States’ decision “a real blow” to the hopes of defeating the virus quickly and collaboratively.
More Worries for Health Officials as the Summer of 2020 Ends
Health officials sounded off warnings for people gathering over Labor Day weekend this past week, referencing the impact of Memorial Day gatherings at the start of the summer. According to AP News, the summer of 2020 started with 1.6 million coronavirus cases before surging to more than 6.2 million confirmed cases and almost 190,000 deaths related to the virus.
Despite warnings, however, holiday festivities persisted. In South Carolina, whose viral hotspot status only started to decline since early August, the largest gathering since the COVID-19 outbreak occurred when fans attended a socially-distant NASCAR race at Darlington Speedway. Some fans attended the event from out-of-state, driving down from as far away as New Hampshire for a bit of fun. Health officials worry, though, that even these socially distant events complete with constant mask-wearing and hand-washing may not be enough to prevent another surge in the virus’ spread.
Looking Ahead Into Fall 2020
Unfortunately, the woes of many health officials may be justified. In January, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of a fall flu season currently on track to be as bad (if not worse) than the 2017-2018 season, which was the deadliest flu season in the last 40 years, according to CNN. Influenza and the coronavirus may yet join together to wreak a double-sided kind of havoc on our collective immune systems.
For the elderly in nursing homes, this is a serious hazard. Both viruses prey on pre-existing conditions (especially those having to do with the respiratory system), making the elderly particularly vulnerable. In this time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever that nursing home administrations continue to use safety precautions to limit both viruses’ potential spread. Though it may be tempting to relax on certain restrictions, the dangers of flu and COVID-19 should not be underestimated.
News Reports of Trump Officials Influencing CDC Data
Every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases updates to healthcare professionals regarding the novel coronavirus, its development, safety protocols, and gathered data on new cases.
Recently, a POLITICO report claims that political officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, appointed by President Trump, had actively sought and obtained access to these reports before they were released to their intended audiences. In several cases, they instructed the CDC to alter the wording, asserting that the information provided in the documents was at odds with the President’s more hopeful rhetoric on COVID-19.
On the heels of President Trump’s admission that he downplayed the coronavirus outbreak’s significance, this news is disconcerting. As attorneys who often work for neglected or abused nursing home residents, who are at a much higher risk for COVID-19 complications and fatalities than other populations, we know the health issues that can arise from a lack of proper communication and transparency.
If you have a loved one who resides in a nursing home or assisted living center, please do your research regarding the methods their nursing home is taking to prevent the spread of this virus. We are not out of the woods yet, and things like mask-wearing and the washing of hands can still reduce the risk of the elderly and those with prior medical conditions.
REMINDER: Don’t Forget About the Flu!
As we exit the “Summer of Coronavirus,” it’s understandable that many of us are focused on this virus, its effects, and ways to prevent its spread. However, Time reported back in January that CDC officials believe this year could have one of the worst flu seasons on record. As the flu attacks immune systems, it can make sufferers even more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus.
Both the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) strongly advocate that nursing home residents and staff should get flu vaccines as soon as possible. Data shows that 70% to 80% of seasonal flu fatalities are people over 65.
Influenza is nothing to sneer at, and it’s essential to make sure we remember to get our vaccinations to help prevent the spread of this virus even as the bulk of our attention is on upcoming plans for a coronavirus vaccine.
New COVID-19 Testing Policies
In a reversal of previous guidelines, United States health officials have now declared that anyone who has been in contact with a person infected with the novel coronavirus should be tested. This comes after a previous statement saying that people should not be tested unless and until they show symptoms of COVID-19, according to the Daily U.S. Times.
The new policy is more in line with most health experts, who were reportedly alarmed by the seemingly political motives behind August’s symptom-only testing guidelines. Statements from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) make it clear that the new policy is more appropriate, given the prevalence and “significance” of transmission by people who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. With increased testing, the hope is that more people infected with COVID-19 will be quarantined and isolated, depriving the virus of opportunities to spread.
New Data Suggests a Rise in Rural Area Infections
Until now, the hotspots for COVID-19 spread have been in major cities. This makes sense, as cities represent hubs for traveling people from all across the world. However, NPR reports that the spread of COVID-19 has become more significant in smaller cities and rural areas. For example, one of the deadliest sites for coronavirus infection is Hidalgo County in Texas. McAllen, the largest city in that county, has a population of only 150,000 people. Despite this, around 1,500 deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported there.
This new data is alarming for several reasons, but among the most serious is that the virus appears to have escaped containment in larger cities. The information suggests that even more isolated communities are at a higher risk for infection than previously thought. For those of us with family members in nursing homes, this new data may mean that we need to keep a close eye on our loved ones. Even nursing homes that are located in more rural areas pose a significant risk of infection.
The United States Breaks 200,000 Death Threshold
Unfortunately, the US has officially surpassed the 200,000 death mark due to COVID-19. According to CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates the average new infection numbers across the nation between 30,000 and 40,000 per day. Amid the solemnity of having a fifth of a million deaths due to the coronavirus, health officials are also worried about a seeming increase in infection cases.
News reports show that more than 20 states have experienced a recent “uptick” in new daily cases. This suggests that the spread of coronavirus is getting worse — not better. The majority of states that report increased infection rates are in the nation’s heartland/midwest areas, further showing that the viral spread has escaped relative containment in larger coastal cities.
Good News As Trial Vaccines Have No Serious Adverse Effects on Older Adults
A possible vaccine for COVID-19, known as mRNA-1723, has completed a Phase 1 trial. The report, released by the National Institutes of Health, shows that the vaccine had no ill effects and was tolerated well by older adults. Other than a few side effects like fever and fatigue post-vaccination, subjects experienced no serious adverse results. Initially focusing on younger adults, the trial expanded to include groups of people aged 56-70 as well as 71 and above.
The important takeaway is that the adults in older categories experienced similar levels of immune response as that seen in younger adults. This indicates that mRNA-1723 may be an acceptable vaccine to be used among the elderly, especially those in nursing homes who are at higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Still, vaccination is a long way off. Phases 2 and 3 of the trial are expected to finish as more data comes in over the next year, with these initial results encouraging expanded testing among a larger population.
New Methods to Keep Safe
As there has been some controversy recently between the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the ability of COVID-19 to spread through the air, some scientists recently gave updated suggestions for safety precautions.
CBS News reports that there is some evidence that droplets of COVID-19 may be able to spread a bit farther than the six-foot distance we’ve been using for social distancing tactics. As a result, it may be best to move all group activities to outdoor locations when possible. Proper ventilation is key to stopping the spread. Wind and ultraviolet light from the sun may pose a role in diffusing and “disarming” the virus.
Nursing homes should also take the following steps to ensure safety:
- Wear masks even when social distancing.
- Make sure air filtration systems are active and properly functioning.
- Keep windows open when possible.
Experts Warn of “Rapid Acceleration” in US COVID-19 Cases
CNN Health reports that Johns Hopkins data collected from across the U.S. denotes an increase in new COVID-19 infections of more than 73% in the past five weeks. This does not bode well for the future, especially with the flu season underway. The Food and Drug Administration’s former commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb summed up the data by stating: “It’s going to be a difficult fall and winter.” This news comes on the heels of a sharp uptick in new cases throughout the European Union, signifying perhaps the beginning of the dreaded “second wave” of infections.
Health experts, studying the latest data, have warned that the U.S. may experience a rapid acceleration in new cases. This is not good news. This means that we may need to impose further restrictions throughout the fall and winter to stop the spread of the illness. Nursing homes should be taking the utmost care, as their residents are among the most vulnerable to infection.
Some Good News: Hospitalized Death Rates Are Dramatically Falling
To offset the news of a potential second wave incoming, it should be noted that hospitalized patients with COVID-19 have a much better outlook than previously expected. At the beginning of the pandemic, people hospitalized with the disease faced a one-in-four chance of death. Now, says National Public Radio (NPR), those who have been hospitalized face a 7.6% chance of dying from the illness. This is a stark drop, but the details should be studied further.
One of the causes of this drop, undoubtedly, is the fact that more young people are being hospitalized for the illness. However, further investigation shows that even older populations have experienced as much as a 19 percentage point drop in fatality rates while hospitalized. This indicates that our healthcare system is becoming more efficient at treating the illness.
It should also be noted that the current 7.6% death rate, as of October 21, 2020, is still much higher than other illnesses (including the common flu, to which naysayers often compare COVID-19). Precautions and safety measures still need to be implemented and, perhaps, increased as the nation prepares for the second wave.
British Study Suggests COVID-19 Immunity Wears Off
In a blow to the “herd immunity” crowd, a recent British study of 365,000 random participants found that coronavirus immunity has dipped 26%. According to CNN, the study consisted of a lateral flow test administered by participants at regular intervals (12, 18, and 24 weeks after coronavirus infections peaked in England). The study is not the first of its kind, but it supports earlier “longitudinal” studies that found a similar waning of coronavirus antibodies over time. This suggests that any immunity to COVID-19 may be necessarily short-lived.
Imperial College London and market research company Ipsos MORI published the study, which only focused on IgG antibodies. This is only one type of antibody produced by the body to fight off infection, so the test is inconclusive for other types. However, the results in June showed 6% of participants with IgG antibodies, while only 4.4% of participants retained their antibodies in September. Perhaps, like the flu, treatments for coronavirus will need to be made on a yearly basis due to this short-lived immunity.
Veklury Approved by the FDA for Coronavirus
The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a treatment for coronavirus infection. Veklury (remdesivir) is an antiviral medication that has previously been approved in 50 countries as emergency treatment for COVID-19 patients. Previously, the drug had been approved in the U.S. solely for emergency situations. Now, the FDA is allowing the drug to be used in hospitalized cases or in settings comparable to in-patient hospitals (such as acute care centers).
Veklury has been approved for both adults and children over the age of 12. This news, part of the administration’s Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP), comes after several studies confirmed that the use of Veklury produced statistically significant results. In one double-blind case study, those who used the drug recovered from coronavirus infection in two-thirds the amount of time it took for those who were administered placebos.
While the approval of Veklury signals the first move toward reducing the risks associated with COVID-19, caution should still be emphasized. Perhaps on the back of this research we will have yearly coronavirus shots that protect our vulnerable populations through immunity in the future. For now, this news is a welcome step in the right direction.
Trump Administration Sends Incentive Money to Nursing Homes
On October 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would be distributing approximately a third of a billion dollars to over 10,000 nursing homes nationwide. The money is intended to serve as a reward for curbing COVID-19 infection and death rates in August and September, as well as an incentive to continue these efforts. Additionally, $2 billion is in the process of being attached to another incentive program. These steps are promising, as they can greatly assist nursing homes in the fight against coronavirus.
Nursing homes across the country are hurting for money even more than usual as additional medical testing, access to personal protective gear for workers, and other necessary steps contribute to overall operating costs. Currently, over 77% of qualified nursing homes and long-term care facilities met the requirements for the incentive program, showing that a vast majority are adhering to COVID-19 safety standards.
If your loved one is in a nursing home that has failed to receive additional funds from the government, it may be because they did not meet safety requirements. Get in touch with a nursing home negligence attorney today to learn whether you have a strong case for a lawsuit.
New Spikes in Infection Rates Bring Further Danger to Nursing Homes
Unfortunately, late October and early November have brought the predicted bad news. COVID-19 infection rates are climbing once again across the country, with ABC News suggesting that the positive steps gained in the later summer of 2020 have already begun to “backslide.” The result is fears of a third spike in coronavirus infection and death rates even as many nursing homes are struggling to find funding for necessary COVID-19 prevention measures. One Wisconsin advocate for the elderly, LeadingAge Wisconsin president John Sauer, summed up the condition of nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the state: “Our system is collapsing,” he said.
The incentive program, devised by the Trump Administration, may need to be put into high gear if information from the American Health Care Association proves accurate. The association announced that 20% of nursing homes are currently low on necessary equipment like gloves and hand sanitizer. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) also sounded a warning about nursing homes, saying that the vast majority of the testing that takes place in nursing home facilities takes substantially longer than 24 hours (the recommended turnover time for avoiding infection).
Additionally, the isolation of the elderly, while necessary to prevent the spread of infection and death due to COVID-19, may also cause serious health concerns. Internist and ABC News contributor Dr. Jay Bhatt voiced significant concerns. “I’m deeply concerned about the continued isolation that older adults face in nursing homes,” he said, citing social isolation as a factor that is known to increase the risk of developing dementia by as much as 50%.
As uncertainty clouds our future, nursing home administrations have many challenges to face. It is our job to hold them accountable and ensure that our loved ones receive the care and safety that they deserve.
Pfizer Announces Positive News in Coronavirus Vaccine Trials
Drugmaker Pfizer recently reported positive results as they work on the development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Human trials of the vaccine have resulted in preventing infection in 90% of volunteers, according to reports by the New York Times. The news skyrocketed the drug, which was made in collaboration between Pfizer and German pharmaceutical manufacturer BioNTech, to the top of the world’s list of potentially viable vaccines. It also marks an astonishing development in the medical world. Dr. Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, emphasized the unique nature of this vaccination development program: “We have embarked on a path and a goal that nobody ever has achieved — to come up with a vaccine within a year.”
Expert Opinions on the Vaccine’s Potential
The world reacted with relief at Pfizer’s announcement, taking it as a good sign that the medical community is on the right track even if it has not yet been peer-reviewed. While experts in the medical field share that optimism, they also stress the importance of the scientific process.
Jesse Goodman, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Georgetown University, emphasized that long-term results need to be sought before approving the vaccine, as well as the publication of Pfizer’s data, so the scientific community can analyze the trial’s effectiveness. However, he also noted that the quick development of this vaccine program is “a testament to hard work and science.”
Immunologist Akiko Iwasaki, who works at Yale, expressed shock at the data announced by Pfizer. “I was [expecting] something like 55%,” Iwasaki said. At a 90% effectiveness rate, this coronavirus vaccine would be akin to measles vaccines given to children across the world. It would even be more effective than the annual flu vaccinations that many receive. In short, if time and additional data stay in line with recent developments, Pfizer’s vaccine has the potential to break the growing trend of coronavirus infections and death.
Vaccine Stats at the Time of This Writing
Pfizer’s vaccine trials are just one of the many worldwide pushes for a new coronavirus treatment. The New York Times’ coronavirus vaccine tracker lists the following statistics for vaccines in the works.
- 38 vaccines in Phase One
- 14 vaccines in expanded safety trials
- 11 vaccines being tested in large groups for effectiveness
- 6 vaccines approved by the FDA for limited and early-intervention usage
- NO vaccines have been granted full approval
Though none have reached the final phase of being usable by the public, these numbers are staggering and engender hope. Usually, vaccines take years of testing and research before they reach these stages. However, the medical community is doing everything they can to develop a vaccine for this pandemic, which has claimed more than 1 million lives across the world.
Pfizer and BioNTech Announce Positive Vaccine Results
After a year of seemingly non-stop bad news, nursing home residents found hope in the recent announcement made earlier this week by Pfizer and BioNTech. In a press release, the companies declared significant success in their joint trial of a COVID-19 vaccination currently named “BNT162b2.” The study marks the end of phase three in the trial, with data showing that the potential vaccine is effective in 95% of cases.
Milestones achieved in the study include:
- The vaccine’s efficacy in preventing infection in those without COVID-19 symptoms
- 94% effectiveness in people over the age of 65
- No serious negative side effects (only minor headaches and fatigue in rare cases)
The companies have begun rolling out the vaccine in some European areas as well as Canada. They plan to update their data as more information about those cases becomes available. However, as the Associated Press is quick to point out, the process is not yet finished. The companies will ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow emergency use of the drug now that enough data has been gathered. They also plan to release their data for peer review once their internal analysis has completed.
Nursing home residents (and their families) are at a higher risk than the average population for coronavirus infection and COVID-19-related fatalities. They can take comfort in this development and in the news that Pfizer expects to distribute 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021. By the end of this year, the company has set its distribution goal to 50 million doses, which most countries will likely use on their at-risk populations first.
Pintas & Mullins Law Firm Is Here for You
At Pintas & Mullins Law Firm, we want to make sure you stay informed during this unprecedented pandemic. Check this blog post weekly for additional updates on restrictions, policies, and other information related to COVID-19 and its effects on nursing homes.
If you suspect that your loved one in a nursing home has been abused, neglected, or exposed to COVID-19 due to malpractice, contact the attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm to discuss your case. We offer a FREE evaluation and can help you learn about the possibility of litigation and compensation for you and your loved one.