St. Louis County reports sharp increase in coronavirus cases at nursing homes
St. Louis County nursing homes reported an increase in coronavirus cases among long-term care residents, with 968 in January, up from 262 cases the month before.
The St. Louis County Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Long-Term Care Report also recorded 22 COVID-related deaths at nursing homes in December and 22 in January.
As of last week, 8,283 St. Louis County long-term care residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 1,304 have died. Residents of long-term care facilities make up 41% of COVID-19 related deaths.
County health officials say the surge in coronavirus cases at nursing homes is due to the fast-spreading omicron variant. Even though many people who live in such facilities received the COVID-19 vaccine, the latest numbers show that they are vulnerable, said Ethan Wankum, an epidemiologist for the department.
“We have in our long term-care population a pretty highly vaccinated group of people," Wankum said. “Yet we're still seeing really large numbers of cases in the past couple months, the most cases we've seen in the past year, so I think that really speaks to just how infectious this particular variant is.”
The January numbers follow previous highs of more than 1,200 coronavirus cases a month at county nursing homes in late 2020.
Health experts say the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots are key to keeping the virus from spreading. Nursing homes were among the first facilities to receive the vaccine near the end of 2020. Since then, about 87% of Missouri nursing home residents have received two doses of the vaccine, and about 63% have gotten a booster shot.
Wankum said the increase in coronavirus cases doesn’t indicate waning vaccine protection from serious illness or death, but it’s another sign of how contagious the omicron variant is.
According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, 473 people in St. Louis-area hospitals were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday, down from 1,400 patients hospitalized last month.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rolled back visitation restrictions late last year for facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid. The new guidance allowed nursing home residents to again receive visitors but also exposed them to additional risk.
It’s critical for people to protect themselves and the senior citizens they come in contact with, said Jenelle Leighton, the health department’s clinical quality administrator.
“With the transmissibility of omicron I want to reinforce the importance of vaccination and being up to date on your vaccination, which includes getting your booster dose,” Leighton said. “The data nationally does show that being up to date with your vaccine provides you the best outcome for minimizing severe illness and hospitalization.”
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