‘The tide is turning’: Nursing home COVID-19 deaths and cases plummet as vaccine rollout continues

Local Coronavirus Coverage

(WJHL) – A national trend of dramatically falling COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities carries over to Northeast Tennessee.

Nursing homes have been among the hardest hit in the COVID-19 pandemic, peaking at more than 30,000 new resident cases during the week of Dec. 20. This is according to national data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They say this case number has significantly dropped by over 80 percent, an indication that vaccines are working.

This data is promising for one of the pandemic’s most vulnerable populations. Reported COVID-19 cases and deaths have fallen sharply among Northeast Tennessee long-term care and nursing home residents.

Hopeful from the numbers is Ryan Youngblood, a clinical assistant professor at ETSU and former nursing home administrator.

“I would say that this is really positive news. If you’re looking at everything since the first of December especially, we’ve been on kind of this rollercoaster ride until about the last full week of December where we started dropping,” he said. “And then it just plummeted. We’ve had spikes here and there, but nothing that, in my mind, would raise major concerns.”

Thirteen resident deaths have been reported by the TDH in the past six weeks. Compare that to 98 deaths in the six weeks prior.

Zero deaths were reported in the most recent week data was available.

“We haven’t won the war yet. I think the tide is turning,” said Dr. Stephen May of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.

May credits a few reasons for the promising numbers: decreased community spread, isolation and quarantine measures working, and vaccination being offered to all long-term care residents across the state.

“All of our facilities, long-term care and assisted care facilities have had the opportunity to get the vaccine,” he said.

May said the community still needs to be cautious as new virus variants spread.

“Viruses that aren’t replicating can’t mutate,” he said.

Not everyone eligible, including long-term care residents, are choosing to be vaccinated. But if a majority of the population does take the vaccine, Youngblood says this still makes a difference.

“I think overall it leads to herd immunity. As long as we’re getting large populations immunized, I really think that we’ll turn that corner,” he said. “There will be those that don’t get vaccinated, and they’ll reap the benefits. But as long as the majority of us are taking care of it, doing our responsibility, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

New cases among long-term care staff are also falling. The TDH reported just two cases among Northeast Tennessee staff in the most recent week of Feb 26. This is down from a point in January when 88 new cases were reported.

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