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Omicron finding its way into nursing homes


In spite of restrictions, social distancing, masking, and vaccines, nursing homes continue to bear the brunt of an ongoing and extremely deadly pandemic. Simply put, the recent omicron variant of COVID-19 has had little resistance in breaching the walls of care facilities in California and throughout the nation.

The latest surge continues a trend of cases entering the general population that eventually finds its way into nursing homes, resulting in newly implemented yet all-too-familiar restrictions.

Residents and staff at risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 40,000 residents recently testing positive, a skyrocketing number representing a ten-fold increase since November. Thankfully, vaccinations reduce the number of overall deaths from the latest virus strain. However, fears continue that residents at risk due to underlying conditions could increase the rate of fatalities over time.

What is concerning is the potential for significant nursing home staff deficiencies. Nursing home employees reached a high of 67,000 cases during the first week of the new year. The number is declining due to the number of vaccinated workers (84 percent) catching up with vaccinated residents (87 percent).

However, existing staff shortages and more than two-thirds not yet getting boosters may worsen a bad situation with stricken workers forced to stay home, resulting in a lower quality of care for already overburdened employees. Some facilities have one nursing assistant per 50 residents or more, well above mandated staff ratios.

One strategy employed by nursing homes is to close wings and limit the number of new patients entering the facility. However, that only transfers the burden to hospitals and family members caring for their elderly loved ones.