New report shows nursing home COVID-19 cases, deaths have fallen

    Nursing Home worker
    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    After months of alarming increases in COVID-19 cases and deaths among Wisconsin nursing home residents, a new report indicates that news may be getting better.

    In the four-week period ending Jan 17, both the rate of new infections and the rate of deaths among Wisconsin nursing home residents were cut almost in half compared with the previous four weeks, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Among nursing home staff new infections were down by more than 40%.

    The numbers come from a data dashboard that the AARP Public Policy Institute maintains. The project monitors COVID-19 in nursing homes nationally, drawing on information nursing homes report to the federal government.

    “We’re moving in the right direction,” says Helen Marks Dicks, state advocacy director for AARP Wisconsin. “The rate of deaths is down and the rate of infections is down.”

    New strains of the coronavirus remain a source of concern, however, she adds, and consequently, “the experts still seem to be saying we’re in for a rough six to eight weeks.”

    According to the report, from Dec. 21 to Jan. 17:

    • There were 5.1 new cases per 100 nursing home residents, down from 9.9 in the four weeks ending Dec. 20 — continuing a trend beginning with the previous report;
    • For the first time, COVID-19 deaths declined, with 1.36 COVID-19 deaths per 100 residents, down from 2.7 in the previous period;
    • There were 6 new employee cases per 100 residents, down from 10.3 in the previous period. (The report measures the number of staff cases per 100 residents because federal data doesn’t consistently report the number of employees in a home and to provide a common scale for measuring infection rates for residents and employees, according to AARP.)

    The report states that shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) in nursing homes have also eased slightly, although they still remain high. In the four weeks ending Jan. 17, 27% of Wisconsin nursing homes reported they did not have at least a one-week supply of PPE. That was down from nearly 35% of homes reporting that their PPE supply was less than one week in the four weeks ending Dec. 20.

    The improved nursing home numbers echo declines that the state Department of Health Services (DHS) has reported in COVID-19 infection and death rates among the population as a whole since 2021 began.

    Marks Dicks credits the AARP reports with spotlighting the importance of infection control in nursing homes. Polls have shown public support for stronger virus mitigation efforts as well, such as wearing masks in public, she observes.

    “Maybe people just did a better job,” Marks Dicks says. “And because the outside numbers are going down, the inside numbers are going down.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.