Months into vaccinations, COVID-19 outbreaks still a problem at long-term care facilities in NC


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – To great fanfare and excitement, the beginning of the year brought hope as residents and staff at long-term care facilities were given their first dose of vaccine to fight COVID-19.

Still, there have been outbreaks in such facilities across North Carolina since vaccinations began.

“We’re worried about what the facility will do to manage risk going forward — things like will there still be COVID testing done regularly, how will the facility evaluate and manage symptoms if someone does get sick?” said Shawn Mercer.

Mercer and his wife have spent months searching for the right long-term care facility for his in-laws and his mother.

“You know, it becomes incumbent on us to continue and say a message of, ‘Hey, these are high-risk areas. They need careful infection control. They need vaccination of their staff and their patients,” said Duke University School of Medicine infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe.

Outbreaks likely occur because staff may not be vaccinated, family members who visit might not be, and potentially, some new residents may not be either.

“We need to make sure that new residents continue to be able to receive vaccine, even if it’s not in that residence facility. If it’s before, maybe they go there or that their family can support them getting vaccinated.”

Wolfe said the focus on congregant living has diminished over the past few months and that the medical community can’t let that happen.

“Often, older adults, the only symptom of COVID is that their delirium is more pronounced. They’re more confused. They’re less capable of making those decisions. So, how does that play out in a nursing facility? It plays out that we then need to be clear in our education to family members who are then making those decisions for their loved ones why a vaccine is so important,” Wolfe said.

That sentiment is something Mercer agrees with.

“With everyone being older and having underlying health conditions, we know that residents are going to be more at risk, so that’s something that’s really important for us,” Mercer said.

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