Coronavirus: Statewide nursing home deaths near 1,700, calls for more testing continue

New statewide data released Wednesday show nearly 1,700 staff and patients in nursing homes across California have died of the coronavirus, including almost 350 in a recent ten-day period.

Overall, at least 1,693 people have died from cases that originated in nursing homes, including 342 between May 15 and May 25, according to the data, released by the state Department of Health Services.

Skilled nursing homes and non-medical assisted living facilities have accounted for 52 percent of all recorded COVID-19 deaths in California. At least 14,273 cases have been attributed to spread in nursing homes.

The data also show that new infections continue to appear among staff and patients in nursing homes. It was not immediately clear if the new cases represented a repeating pattern of COVID-19 infections or a new surge.

The data also show that:

  • Deaths at East Bay Post Acute, a Castro Valley nursing home, have climbed to 17. That’s one less than the Gateway Rehabilitation and Care Center in Hayward, which has 18. The Redwood Springs Healthcare Center in Tulare County leads the state with 29 patient deaths.
  • The Bel Tooren Villa Convalescent Hospital in Bellflower, Los Angeles County, leads the state with 200 total patient infections. Less than 11 of those patients have died.
  • A total of 9,028 patients and 5,245 staff statewide have contracted the virus. The data does not show how many of them have contracted COVID19, the disease it causes.

The state has not released data showing the number of nursing home patients and staff that have been tested for the virus.

Dr. Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, said in a telephone interview late Wednesday that while people in nursing facilities are still getting sick, it was hard to tell what the context is without more testing.

“If you don’t test, you don’t know,” Wasserman said. “At the start of this, it was easier to say, ‘no one has COVID’ because there was no one testing. Unless you know how many people have been tested, you don’t have any context.”

Wasserman said he expects more cases to be identified, but for now the numbers of COVID cases and deaths in nursing homes is likely undercounted.

“I continue to predict, when we finally get the data figured out, it’s going to be tragic,” he said.

It’s not enough to get tested, he said — the laboratories need to prioritize turning around results for nursing home residents and staff, so that measures can be taken to isolate or quarantine if necessary.

Testing is also important, he said, because many geriatric patients don’t present with typical symptoms. Many won’t have a fever even if they have an infection, for instance.

While the California Department of Public Health has issued guidance to counties to prioritize testing in nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, there has been no statewide mandate for a universal, regular testing schedule for long-term care facilities.

The Trump administration called for increased national testing in nursing homes earlier this month.

But the head of the elder-care advocacy group Leading Age said in a statement Tuesday that the administration has failed nursing homes.

“Despite guidelines that nursing home staff be tested weekly, thousands of nursing homes and other aging-services providers still do not have access to testing or resources to pay for it,” Katie Smith Sloan, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

“The sad truth is this: The country has little more than a patchwork plan for protecting older lives,” she said. “Our leaders in Washington, DC did not listen, did not plan, and did not prioritize the health and lives of older adults. Now our most vulnerable Americans are paying the price.”

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Author: Thomas Peele, Annie Sciacca