53% of Nation’s Nursing Homes in or Near Counties with Coronavirus Cases

As a variety of voices — from top health officials to the leaders of trade groups to the president — urge Americans not to visit nursing homes, a new analysis shows that more than half of the nation’s skilled nursing facilities are either in or near counties with active cases of COVID-19.

A little more than 53% of SNFs nationwide are either located in a county with a confirmed coronavirus case or adjacent to one, according to Thursday data from senior housing market research firm VisionLTC; the proportion of SNFs in counties with confirmed cases is 29.5%.

That’s actually the lowest proportion of any senior housing and care setting, with 70.6% of independent living communities and 62.4% of memory care buildings in or adjacent to counties with active COVID-19 cases.

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Source: VisionLTC

When reading the above chart, it’s important to note that the numbers represent buildings, not individual cases — so as of Thursday, there were 8,041 skilled nursing facilities in or adjacent to counties with cases, and 788 individual buildings in or adjacent to counties with reported coronavirus deaths.

As of Thursday afternoon, the total coronavirus death toll in the United States sat at 39, with 1,323 confirmed cases, according to reports.

The VisionLTC figures — which the company compiled through its own database, as well as a publicly available analysis of coronavirus cases from Johns Hopkins University — represent an increase from Wednesday.

Just one day prior, about 49% of skilled nursing facilities were in or adjacent to counties with COVID-19 cases, and VisionLTC co-founder and CEO Arick Morton predicted that the numbers will only rise.

“We do expect things to continue to accelerate an equal or faster rate, unfortunately (especially once they get the testing regime stood up — then we’ll likely see an explosion),” Morton told SNN via e-mail.

As the respiratory infection spreads, the government and various businesses have taken unprecedented steps to prevent further outbreaks, from President Trump’s announcement of a partial ban on air travel to Europe and the suspension of play across multiple major North American professional sports leagues.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued sweeping guidance banning most non-essential visits to nursing homes, and completely shifted its inspection priorities to focus primarily on infection control at the expense of all non-emergency survey work.

For residents of nursing homes, the risk is particularly severe, as elderly people with multiple chronic health issues are incredibly vulnerable to COVID-19. Speaking on CNN earlier this week, American Health Care Association CEO Mark Parkinson said the mortality rate for nursing home residents is likely much higher than the 15% reported for people over age 80.

“The grim reality is that for the elderly, COVID-19 is almost a perfect killing machine,” Parkinson said.

The president echoed the official calls for Americans — even those without any symptoms — to stay away from nursing homes indefinitely during a nationally televised address Wednesday evening.

“The highest risk is for elderly population [sic] with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful,” Trump said. “In particular, we are strongly advising that nursing homes for the elderly suspend all medically unnecessary visits.”

A nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., operated by Life Care Centers of America, became an early epicenter for the spread of COVID-19, with 23 of the 30 coronavirus deaths in Washington state linked to the property, according to reports.