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coronavirus crisis

Unvaccinated nursing home staffers linked to rise in cases, deaths among residents

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigators have found that with the Delta coronavirus variant spreading across the U.S., nursing homes where there are several unvaccinated staffers are seeing outbreaks among residents, including inoculated residents, The Associated Press reports. 

Nursing home residents represent about 1 percent of the U.S. population but account for 22 percent of reported COVID-19 deaths, with more than 133,400 dying since last spring. Nationwide, roughly 59 percent of nursing home staffers and 80 percent of residents are vaccinated, Medicare says. In some states, however, the rates are much lower. In Mesa County, Colorado, a coronavirus hotspot, investigators found that at one nursing home facility, 42 percent of the staff and just 8 percent of residents were not fully vaccinated. There was a COVID-19 infection rate of 30 percent among vaccinated residents and staff members, with most of the cases among residents, AP reports. 

Vaccinated people infected by the Delta variant primarily report mild symptoms, but the elderly may "not respond fully to the vaccine," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told AP. There is "enormous risk" of someone coming into an elder care facility with COVID-19, he said, and "vaccinating workers in nursing homes is a national emergency because the Delta variant is a threat to even those already vaccinated."

Many operators of elder care facilities do not want to make vaccines mandatory, over concerns it will lead to people quitting. At one Indiana nursing home, where 44 percent of the staff is vaccinated, seven residents died of COVID-19 during an outbreak that started in mid-June; one of the victims was vaccinated. Howard County health officer Dr. Emily Backer told AP the staff vaccination rate is "lower than we'd like. But at this point, they can't force them."

Laura Gelezunas' vaccinated mother, Joann, resides in a nursing home in Missouri, and after multiple emails and phone calls, the nursing home confirmed Joann had COVID-19. The nursing home tried to pin the blame on visitors, but Gelezunas believes an unvaccinated staffer brought the virus into the nursing home. "My mom is bedridden," she told AP. "I got people taking intimate care of her and you're telling me you can't tell me that at $7,500 a month that my mom can't have someone that's vaccinated take care of her?"