Indiana nursing homes see more COVID cases as omicron spreads in surrounding communities

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CHULA VISTA, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 21: Long-term care patient Carlos Alegre receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Birch Patrick Skilled Nursing Facility at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center on December 21, 2020 in Chula Vista, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Long term care facilities are asking Hoosiers to do their part to minimize the spread of COVID-19. This comes after a recent increase in COVID cases among nursing home staff and residents.

“With omicron being able to have such success with breakthrough infections, the spread is very high right now,” said Zach Cattell, President of the Indiana Health Care Association/Indiana Center For Assisted Living.

On January 3, less than two weeks ago, 89 residents and 192 staff tested positive on that single day according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. Just one month prior, on December 3, the same data shows that there were only 37 cases linked back to residents and 36 linked to staff.

Cattell said the number one indicator for COVID spread within congregate settings is the prevalence of COVID-19 in the surrounding community.

“These [facilities] are parts of the community. They are not walled off and sheltered off from everyone else and so, particularly now, we’re having just a lot of spread across the state,” said Cattell.

“The data has certainly shown that the vaccinations are the key to keeping our residents safe [and] our community safe,” said Evan Lubline, Chief Executive Officer at Hooverwood Living.

Despite the concerning trend, Lubline said there is a silver lining. He said while coronavirus infections may be growing, hospitalizations and deaths remain low. Lubline said he thanks the vaccine for that.

“We have 95% of our staff vaccinated and close to 100% for our residents,” said Lubline.

“We were preparing early on with our facility members, and with the health department in particular, to prepare and get our members ready and to really promote vaccination uptake and booster administration,” said Cattell. “We have a very good uptake of vaccination and boosters that is making all the difference. So while cases are up, and we are seeing some increased deaths, it’s nothing like what it was a year ago.”

While severe illness is unlikely, experts said each staff member who tests positive still needs to isolate – worsening staff shortages. Cattell said some facilities are having to limit hospital admissions due to staffing shortages so they can focus on the residents already in their care.

“We have to do what’s right and only under the most dire circumstances will someone who has a confirmed positive case, but is asymptomatic, could they work. But that’s only in the most crisis of situations,” Cattell.

As facilities wait for their workforce to replenish, they ask everyone in the community to do what they can to minimize spread as it protects our most vulnerable populations in the end.

“If they have any flu-like symptoms themselves or not vaccinated, [we ask them] to think about it before they come into a healthcare setting,” said Lubline. “Stay home, get rested, and feel better in a couple days hopefully… Keep our residents safe and keep our community safe overall.”

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