The number of nursing homes across the state with at least one active case of COVID-19 has risen nearly 800 percent in the past month, while nearly half of nursing home employees in Texas remain unvaccinated. if.
Nursing home residents were the hardest hit by COVID-19 last year as the virus broke into facilities at an alarming rate. More than 400 residents in Texas nursing homes died in a single week in August 2020; since the pandemic began, 9,095 have died after contracting COVID-19, according to the Texas Commission on Human Services and Health. As of Aug. 11, that’s 17% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
To curb the spread of the virus, Gov. Greg Abbott stopped visits to nursing homes in March 2020 and then eased those restrictions five months later for facilities that had no active cases both. previous weeks. HHSC’s current visit guidelines for nursing homes require visitors to wear a mask at all times and limit the visit to no more than two “essential caregivers” per resident.
But after seeing infections continue to be relatively low in recent months, more than 1,200 nursing homes in the state are seeing a new wave of infections as COVID-19 cases explode across the state, driven by the highly contagious delta variant:
- The number of Texas nursing homes with active cases of COVID-19 has risen 773% in the past month, from 56 in mid-July to 489 on August 11. This is still well below the peak in January, when more than 900 facilities had at least one active case.
- Deaths are also on the rise. From July 21 to August 11, 84 nursing home residents died of COVID-19, compared with seven deaths over the previous four-week period.
- Approximately 76% of residents in nursing homes in Texas have been completely vaccinated, placing the state in 46th place nationally. The national average is 82%.
But the current increase in nursing home cases has not triggered renewed restrictions by the state.
“We are continuously assessing what actions are needed to keep people safe in the facilities we regulate,” HHSC spokeswoman Helena Wright-Jones said in a written statement.
Meanwhile, just over half (56%) of nursing home staff have been fully vaccinated, below the national average of 59%, placing Texas in 33rd place in the national vaccination rates. nursing home staff.
The state does not require vaccinating residents or staff of nursing homes. Wright-Jones said nursing homes are required to offer the vaccine to residents, and his agency “strongly encourages vaccination against COVID-19 for all staff in long-term care facilities.” and residents “.
Some national nursing home chains have begun demanding vaccination of their staff and all members of nursing homes in Massachusetts will have to be vaccinated on October 10 under an order from Governor Charlie Baker, according to the Boston radio station WBUR.
Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, which has long-term, for-profit and nonprofit health centers, said nursing homes are hesitant to require staff vaccination because they fear losing employees looking for other jobs that do not require vaccines.
“Right now, we have a very large staff,” Warren said. “And when we see this wave repeating itself, the stress and emotional weight that affects the staff and the rest of the people in the building, the concern is, ‘If I put this vaccine warrant on, will I lose staff?’ ”
Warren added that the percentage of staff at residences who are not vaccinated is similar to that of the general population, “so let’s not leave them out.”
Warren said the pandemic has carried heavy financial burdens on the industry.
“Our real focus right now is to have and get relief from additional resources,” Warren said. “And get help and financial help to pay for the test, to pay for the test [personal protective equipment for staff] and pay the significantly added costs of hiring and retaining staff, especially at this critical time. “
Annaliese Impink, executive vice president and spokeswoman for the Retama Manor Nursing Center, which operates about 55 nursing homes in the state, said 70 percent of its staff have been vaccinated, well above the state rate for nursing home workers. However, about 20 of the company’s facilities currently have one or more active cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents.
“We believe the spread is caused by unvaccinated staff members,” Impink said. “… Our residents are in our center and don’t come out often, and our vaccination rates in our centers are pretty good. Therefore, it is only necessary to assume that it comes mainly from unvaccinated staff members. “
Retama Manor requires the vaccination of its executives, administrators and managers and is considering whether all staff should get the vaccine. Some staff members are not vaccinated, he said, because of “a lot of misinformation in the community, and there is the anti-vaxxer movement that facilitates misinformation.”
Impink said most residents who are vaccinated and who test positive for the virus show no severe symptoms, they are usually nothing more than a sore throat or a runny nose.
“But non-vaccinated residents and staff see more acute symptoms,” said Impink, who added that some unvaccinated residents have been hospitalized after receiving the virus.
At Focused Post Acute Care Partners, which runs 31 nursing homes in Texas, approximately 55 percent of its nearly 2,200 staff members are fully vaccinated, according to Becky Anderson, the company’s chief clinician.
Most Care Focused residents who test positive for COVID-19 are sent to the company’s 87-bed facility in Baytown, where residents from other nursing homes across the state are also sent. The facility is currently treating 45 patients with the virus, according to Anderson, compared to 14 on June 30.
And, like Retama Manor, the company does not require staff to be vaccinated.
“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice, and focused post-acute care partners, right now, are responding to that choice,” Anderson said. “We continue to educate and re-educate infection control practices in our organization … [about] the importance of protecting residents and our staff from the virus, and it is frustrating and exhausting that we may go through this next wave of advanced cases, but our health workers will continue to fight this fight. “