computer rendered illustration of a microscopic virus

Weekly COVID-19 cases among skilled nursing home staff members and residents set new records earlier this month, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

Virus cases among staff members jumped 475%, from approximately 5,800 on Dec. 19 to more than 33,400 new cases on Jan. 2. NIC said it is the highest rate since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began reporting data in June 2020.

For the week ending Jan. 9, more than 57,000 new cases were reported among SNF staff members, double the peak of fall 2020 cases for COVID-19. Comparatively, approximately  29,000 cases were for the week ending Dec. 13, 2020.

Newly reported cases of COVID-19 among skilled nursing residents increased by 240%, from more than 4,200 cases on Dec. 19, 2020, to about 14,400 new cases on Jan. 2. More than 32,000 new cases were reported for the week ending Jan. 9.

Nursing homes in Northeast region of the country reported the highest per-resident rate of new COVID-19 infections, at 1.64%, followed by the South (1.43%), the Midwest (1.39%) and then the West (0.49%), according to CMS data as of Jan. 2, compiled by NIC’s skilled nursing COVID-19 tracker

The good news, NIC said, is that although more cases were reported due to the relatively easy transmission of the omicron variant, fatalities among SNF residents were relatively low. For the week ending Jan. 2, fatalities as percent of residents stood at 0.04%, 50 basis points below the highest level recorded Dec. 20 (0.54%).

“Since December 2020, vaccinations have made a significant contribution to mitigate the risk of severe illness and fatalities among skilled nursing residents, even during the delta variant surge in recent months,” Omar Zahraoui, NIC data analyst, wrote in a blog Monday.

Handling requests for medical exemptions

The news comes at the same time that AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine is releasing guidance for facilities on how to handle requests for medical exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination.

The society suggests that providers use a standardized medical exemption request form for workers who cannot take the vaccine. The form, AMDA said, should “list the acceptable medical exemptions at the top of the form to eliminate the opportunity for free-texting and/or making a blanket statement that the individual should be exempted.”

AMDA provides a template that nursing homes can use on its website

Christopher E. Laxton, CAE, executive director of AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, told the McKnight’s Business Daily that the society was pleased with last week’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld the vaccine mandate for staff at Medicare and Medicaid-funded facilities such as nursing homes.

“This step will help protect our nation’s most vulnerable citizens who reside in nursing homes, and those who care for them. …Higher levels of staff vaccination and boosting is a key step in preventing the unnecessary and avoidable increase in illness and death among staff and residents in our setting of care,” he said.