Data shows NC’s nursing homes account for smaller share of COVID-19 deaths over past month

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nursing homes account for a smaller share of the total number of COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina over the past month.

A CBS17.com data investigation found that 49.1 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the state are linked to nursing homes — down noticeably from May 27, when that figure was 53 percent.

It comes as the state Department of Health and Human Services announced an increase of 10 nursing homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks — defined by the state as having two or more active cases. That brought the total to 121 nursing homes, or more than one in four nursing homes in the state.

According to the state’s daily figures Tuesday, nursing homes account for 660 of the 1,343 total COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina. Five weeks ago, 421 of the 794 total deaths at that time involved nursing homes.

The North Carolina Healthcare Facilities Association — a trade group that represents the state’s more than 420 nursing homes — says roughly one third of the nursing homes on the state’s list of outbreaks shows either one infected resident or none. That means those outbreaks are primarily limited to staff members and 

“We are now better equipped to limit the spread,” NCHFA President Adam Sholar said in a statement to CBS 17 News. “Nursing homes have received increased support in the form of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, and the scientific community’s collective knowledge base about how to minimize the spread of this disease has grown. As a result, the number of positive cases and deaths in North Carolina nursing homes is declining.”

But DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen has another possible explanation — a growing number of deaths elsewhere.

“As far as the percentage going down as the total, I think what that is related to is the fact that we are seeing more virus spread in our community and when you have more cases of COVID-19 in community, that means you’re going to have more hospitalizations and unfortunately, more folks who may succumb to this virus,” Cohen said Tuesday. “And so as a percentage of the total, it may just be that we’re seeing spread in other places.”

Cohen also announced that one-time testing will be made available to all residents and staff in North Carolina’s skilled nursing facilities during July and August through a partnership between the state and CVS Health company Omnicare.

That comes as a national organization continued its push for universal testing at nursing homes.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living cited projections from Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In an opinion piece published by The Daily Signal, Fitzgerald says she believes universal testing could help cut the number of future COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes in half.

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