Amid the Omicron surge, the nursing home industry is enduring a spike in outbreaks coupled with staffing shortages as the virus spreads through facilities. Wake County currently reports 36 ongoing outbreaks at nursing homes and residential care facilities. 

North Carolina reported 45,000 new cases of the virus Thursday and a 30 percent positivity rate. Hospitalizations also have seen a steep incline, with 4,275 patients currently receiving treatment for COVID-19, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 

Congregate living settings have shown to be especially vulnerable and remain a key indicator of wider community spread. As of this week, 335 North Carolina nursing homes report ongoing outbreaks, according to state DHHS data. 

Nationally, nursing homes have seen a ninefold increase in weekly COVID-19 cases over the last month, up to nearly 90,000 last week, according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). The majority of those cases—57,243—affected nursing home staff.

Worsening the problem is a significant staffing shortage. Since the pandemic began, the nursing home industry has shed 234,000 workers, a 15 percent reduction overall.

“We cannot weather this storm alone,” David Gifford, AHCA/NCAL chief medical officer, said in a press statement. “We’re extremely concerned about how this surge will impact our already dire labor crisis as caregivers must isolate if they test positive.

“Staffing shortages impact access to care for our vulnerable residents and impede our ability to help overwhelmed hospitals,” Gifford continued. 

One silver lining: although the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths has gone up in the most recent surge, the fatality rate is a tenth of what it was in December 2020. That’s because there are a lot more people vaccinated, which continues to be the best way to prevent serious illness from the virus.

“Fortunately, the vaccines appear to be working against Omicron, but we must remain vigilant and steadfast on vaccinating and boosting as many residents and staff members as quickly as possible,” Gifford said. 

North Carolina has reported 19,850 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Of those, nearly a quarter—4,557 deaths—have been nursing home patients and workers. 

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