With COVID-19 cases down to just two per day in recent weeks within a portfolio serving 40,000 residents, and a 100% resident vaccination rate expected by the end of the month, Ventas Chairman and CEO Debra Cafaro said Tuesday that she’s feeling “cautiously optimistic” that the firm’s operators will see improvements in occupancy even earlier than predicted on its fourth-quarter and year-end 2020 earnings call three weeks ago.

“The demand from seniors and their families has been incredibly powerful and strong,” Cafaro said during the Citi Global Property CEO Conference. “We definitely continue to see dramatically improving clinical conditions, our leading indicators are strong and we have favorable supply-demand fundamentals. All of these factors are setting the table for a powerful upside recovery in senior housing.” 

Carafo noted that the Chicago-based real estate investment trust saw leads in January increase to their highest absolute level since the start of the pandemic. And Ventas is not the only REIT feeling optimistic about the potential timing of senior housing’s recovery. On Monday, Welltower CEO Shankh Mitra also expressed hope that the occupancy trough for the senior housing sector is not that far off.

On the Toledo, OH-based firm’s fourth-quarter and year end 2020 earnings call several weeks ago, Mitra said he expected it to occur toward the end of 2021, but he raised the possibility this week that it could be sooner.

“Since [the earnings call], I will tell you that COVID-19 cases have come down so much, it feels like that can happen in the second quarter,” Mitra said during the Citi Global Property CEO Conference. “It is a possibility that the inflection has moved up six to nine months.”

Recovery optimism also came from Brentwood, TN-based senior living operator Brookdale Senior Living this week. Although the company reported new occupancy lows in February, falling to a month-end occupancy rate of 70.1%, it also pointed to improvements in move-in rates.

“In February, both move-ins and move-outs improved compared with January,” the firm reported Monday in a press release. “With move-in growth, our positive momentum continued. We have now seen consecutive monthly move-in growth since November.

Brookdale also reported that COVID-19 cases within its 726 communities have declined more than 95% since the virus’ peak. In addition, 98% of its communities have hosted their second vaccine clinic, and more than 350 communities have hosted their third vaccine clinic, with more clinics being held daily.