San Diego Nursing Homes Seeing Uptick In COVID Cases
California’s order this week requiring workers in health care settings to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September, was partly driven by outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant at nursing homes, according to health officials.
New cases among the state’s nursing home residents had jumped 91% as of Aug. 6, according to data released by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Meanwhile, new cases among nursing home staff grew by 30 percent, the data show.
“We’re definitely well into yet another surge of this virus,” said Karl Steinberg, president of The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. “We keep thinking we're getting to the end of the line and then the virus throws us another curve ball. That's clearly what's going on now.”
San Diego County hasn’t yet seen a big spike in nursing home cases, which Steinberg credited to relatively high vaccination rates. Locally, approximately 75% of caregivers and over 90% of residents have been vaccinated, Steinberg said.
But he warned that a dramatic increase in cases might be on the immediate horizon. Five San Diego nursing homes have reported small outbreaks among residents. But more than two dozen local homes have reported between one and 10 new cases among caregivers as of Aug. 6, according to state data.
“Ultimately, we will see many facilities have to go back to significant restrictions on visiting and that sort of thing,” Steinberg said. “I hate to say it. Everybody was so happy that things were going in the other direction.”
As outbreaks of the Delta variant spiked upwards earlier this summer, state health officials noticed a trend -- many health care workers were among the new positive cases
“We also noted increasing numbers of health care workers as new positive cases, despite vaccinations being prioritized for this group when vaccines initially became available,” read a CDPH order in July. “Recent outbreaks in health care, SNFs, and other congregate settings have frequently been traced to unvaccinated staff members.”
Tony Chicotel, staff lawyer with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, told KPBS that fewer than 50% of staff were vaccinated at many facilities in the state.
“I am very discouraged by the uptick in cases,” Chicotel said.
CDPH officials hope Thursday’s order requiring healthcare employees to be fully vaccinated will stem that uptick.
“Today’s action will also ensure that healthcare workers themselves are protected,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer. “Vaccines are how we end this pandemic.”