COVID-19 cases in nursing homes dropped 47% in Wisconsin by early February after vaccination started in mid-December, but 10 facilities that didn’t report any cases last year have had cases this year, according to a report Tuesday by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group.
More than 600 nursing homes nationwide, including 89 in Wisconsin, reported three or more new resident cases during the first week of February, more than a month after mass vaccinations started in nursing homes, said the report by WISPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group based on analyzing government data.
The group criticized the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this month for new guidance that relaxed visitation restrictions.
“It seems, unfortunately, that carelessness and impatience could still be putting lives and communities at risk,” WISPIRG campaign associate Susanna Cain said in a statement.
While shortages of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment have improved, nearly 6% of nursing homes in February reported a critical shortage of N95 masks, which experts say are the single best protection against contracting COVID-19, WISPIRG said.
But overall, the situation in nursing homes is improving, the report said.
New cases among nursing home residents in Wisconsin peaked in the fall, reaching 854 for the week ending Nov. 15. By early February, new cases had plunged to 39. “This news validates what everyone was hoping — that the vaccines work,” Cain said.
As of Monday, 2% of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 cases and 45% of deaths have been in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, according to the state Department of Health Services. The settings for 42% of cases and 26% of deaths are unknown.
The state health department recently updated data to show that nearly 1,000 more COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care facilities than earlier reported. The setting for those deaths was initially considered unknown but was changed during a review of the data.
As of last week, there had been 2,210 public health investigations of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the state, each involving one case or more. There were 338 active investigations, including two in Dane County — at Nazareth Health and Rehab Center and at Skaalen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, both in Stoughton.
State officials recently updated data to show that nearly 1,000 more COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care facilities than earlier reported.