The Decline in COVID-19 Deaths Among Nursing Home Residents and Staff Reversed Course Amid the Surging Delta Variant This Summer

The months-long decline in COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents and staff reversed course this summer as the Delta variant dominated, with mortality increasing five-fold from 350 deaths in July to nearly 1,800 in August, finds a new KFF analysis.

The analysis also finds increases in nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths were steeper than those in the broader community between July and August.

Nursing home deaths in August were the highest reported since February, when 5,300 nursing home residents and staff died of COVID-19, but still far below the peak of over 22,000 deaths in December 2020. COVID-19 cases in nursing homes also rose more than four-fold between July and August.

The findings illustrate that, while recent news coverage has focused heavily on the impact of the pandemic on children and unvaccinated adults, COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect older adults and people with disabilities — populations that were hit particularly hard in the first year of the crisis.

The recent endorsement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of booster shots for older adults and others at high risk of serious illness, including those in nursing homes, could help curb new cases and deaths. In addition, the Biden administration has recently announced staff vaccination mandate for nursing homes.

A second KFF analysis released this week similarly finds that COVID-19 deaths among older adults in the U.S. more broadly also have been on the rise amid the Delta variant outbreak, though not reaching the levels seen earlier in the pandemic.

Among 38 states in the new analysis, four of the five with the lowest COVID vaccination rates for older adults – Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, and Nevada – had higher death rates than the national average, with a combined death rate nearly two times the national average for this age group during the recent surge. Had the death rate in the 10 least vaccinated states been the same as the death rate in the 10 most vaccinated states, there would have been 7,623 fewer deaths among older adults during the Delta surge in these states.

For more data and analyses about COVID-19, visit kff.org.

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