St. Louis County Nursing Homes Had Record Number Of COVID-19 Cases Last Month
St. Louis County nursing homes have reported the highest-ever monthly total of new COVID-19 cases among residents since the start of the pandemic.
At least 913 residents in long-term care facilities became infected with the coronavirus in November — shattering the previous monthly record of 737 cases set in May.
The number of new infections among nursing home residents in St. Louis County had been mostly declining since late spring. The most recent spike in cases represents a more than threefold increase compared to October, the county’s department of public health reported Friday.
Since March, 3,762 nursing home residents in St. Louis County have contracted the coronavirus.
Of these, 593 have died, accounting for nearly 60% of all COVID-19 deaths countywide.
The spread of the coronavirus cases in St. Louis nursing homes is “out of control,” said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a nonprofit that advocates for long-term care residents and their families.
Long-term care residents often have to interact closely with their caregivers, Moore explained, which can put them at higher risk of contracting the virus.
“You can't social distance in this work,” she said. “Caretakers really have to be in their face, feeding them, helping them dress, helping them get out of bed in the morning. That’s one reason that the virus can rage through a facility so quickly, because one person can come in and spread it to so many people.”
As cases of COVID-19 have surged across the St. Louis region, the likelihood of infected staff inadvertently spreading the virus to residents has also increased.
The sharp increase in infections among nursing home residents in November is likely due to the “explosive growth” in transmission within the broader community, said Christopher Ave, spokesperson for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
Though many long-term care facilities have suspended family visitation, residents are “not shielded from the community,” Ave said. “There are doctors and nurses and aides and janitorial workers going in and out of these facilities every day. We just can’t keep COVID-19 out when community transmission is so high.”
Nursing home vaccination plans
Under Missouri’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, released in November, long-term care residents will be among the highest-priority groups for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
Residents will be offered the vaccine after health care workers and nursing home staff through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, a federal initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The program will offer free on-site vaccine clinics at individual facilities for nursing home residents and any workers who didn’t receive the vaccine during the first phase of distribution.
The exact timing remains unclear, but during a press conference on Wednesday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said long-term care residents could begin receiving the vaccine by the end of December.
Various national pharmacies will be in charge of coordinating with nursing homes and distributing the vaccine, Page said, but a county task force “will be monitoring to make sure they have access to the vaccine.”
Marjorie Moore said she feels encouraged that nursing home residents are at the top of the list for vaccination.
“As a society, we need to stand up and say that people who are elderly, people who are disabled are important in our community,” Moore said. “It’s not OK to throw people away.”
Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan