COVID Variant Spreads Among Kentucky Nursing Home Residents

March 16, 2021
Frank Diamond

COVID-19 outbreak hits Kentucky nursing home a week after CMS relaxes visiting restrictions.

Vaccination against COVID-19 spared residents of an unnamed nursing home in Kentucky from being decimated by an unknown variant brought into the facility. However, that unknown variant was, in fact, brought in by an unvaccinated person about a week after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) relaxed restrictions on visitation at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities (LTCF). The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents have contracted the variant. Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack tells the newspaper that 5 residents have had to be hospitalized, and 1 of those had been vaccinated.

According to the newspaper “85 percent of residents and 48 percent of staff opted to get a coronavirus vaccine. An unvaccinated person brought in the variant, Stack said, infecting 41 people — 27 residents and 14 staff. Of those who are infected and fully immunized, 30 percent have been symptomatic. Meanwhile, 83 percent of those who aren’t immunized are showing symptoms, but only one vaccinated resident has become sick enough to be hospitalized, compared to four unvaccinated residents.”

CMS, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last week relaxed restrictions on nursing home visits. The updated CDC guidance encouraged nursing homes and other LTCFs to allow indoor visitation for all residents at all time no matter what the vaccination status of the resident or the victim might be.

“High vaccination rates among nursing home residents, and the diligence of committed nursing home staff to adhere to infection control protocols, which are enforced by CMS, have helped significantly reduce COVID-19 positivity rates and the risk of transmission in nursing homes,” the CMS press release stated.

Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board, wrote in a viewpoint that CMS’ relaxing of the restrictions on visiting was a mistake. Kavangh wrote that “this recommendation appears to assume that herd immunity is reached at 70%. This figure appears to be even a low community estimate for obtaining herd immunity. And certainly, will not be true for spread which occurs in an indoor setting with poor ventilation and high resident contact; let alone that which is needed for to achieve herd immunity with the new variants.”

The nexus of COVID-19 infection—resulting in a big proportion of the victims—festered in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities (LTCFs). About 172,000 of the nearly 530,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in America—nearly 35%—were either residents or workers at nursing homes, the New York Times reported last month.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that “regardless of which variants are diagnosed in the state, Stack said he hopes this helps hammer home that ‘increased vaccination uptick among all staff and visitors to nursing homes, and in fact people visiting any vulnerable population, is urgently needed to reduce the risk of introducing COVID-19.’”