Residents at The Reservoir in West Hartford were among the first nursing home dwellers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Connecticut. AP Photo
Residents at The Reservoir in West Hartford were among the first nursing home dwellers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Connecticut. AP Photo

More than 64,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to nursing home residents and staff in the last month, and the number of infections dropped considerably this week, continuing a month-long trend that providers and state officials hope will continue.

For the week of Jan. 13-19, there were 238 infections — the fourth straight week that number has dropped. The number of infections is half of what they were the week of Dec. 21, when CVS and Walgreens vaccinators were just starting their rounds to nursing homes and administering shots.

While the rate of nursing home staff getting vaccinated has hovered around 50%, the number of residents taking it has been close to 90%.

The rate of infections among staff also dropped considerably this week, down to 190, compared to 250 last week. The decreases in both populations have providers cautiously optimistic “they have finally turned the corner.”

“I believe that the the worst may be over for resident fatalities due to COVID,” nursing home owner Paul Liistro said.  The protection afforded by the vaccine, even after one dose and certainly after the second, allows us to pivot to a more optimistic future.”

But Matthew Barrett, the CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said with community spread still high throughout the state providers must remain vigilant..

“I believe the data is promising, but we would need to see a significant reduction in community spread before and a few more weeks showing downward trends,” Barrett said.

“Under CMS rules, all nursing homes in every county are testing twice weekly because community positivity rates have been over 10%,” Barrett added. “We need to stay the course on keeping vigilant until these statistics are on a clear downward trajectory.”

The death total did rise last week, with 110 deaths, after dipping below 100 for the first time in a month the week before. Over the week of Jan. 6-12, there were 85 deaths in nursing homes and 312 residents who were infected — both numbers lower than during previous weeks. For the period of Dec. 30 to Jan. 5, there were 120 deaths due to COVID-19 and 483 infections.

But officials said deaths tend to lag behind infections for a variety of reasons, and they hope that by next week the number of deaths will also fall.

“I think maybe we’re starting to see a little bit of benefit from the vaccination starting to creep in,” Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said at Thursday’s press briefing.

The first nursing home residents were vaccinated on Dec. 18. Geballe said it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to begin to offer protection, and immunity doesn’t take hold for a few weeks, so the numbers could be starting to reflect the first groups getting vaccinated.

The state continues to test nursing home residents and staff weekly to try and curb outbreaks before they occur. Geballe said the lower infection numbers also can be attributed to “the hard work of the teams — the rigorous testing and the infection control efforts that the teams are making across the state.”

Nearly 10,000 residents and nursing home staff have received their second doses, and as that number grows, the cases are expected to continue to drop off.

CVS and Walgreens vaccinators are hoping to get through a second round of vaccinations at all 213 nursing homes in the state by the end of January.

While the numbers may be dropping, state officials point out that outbreaks are continuing to occur, particularly in eastern Connecticut. Of the 110 deaths recorded in the latest time period, more than half of them occurred in nursing homes in eastern Connecticut, from Windham to Stonington.

Last week, there were 19 deaths in the COVID recovery unit that the state Department of Public Health opened at the Greentree Manor Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center in Waterford. The facility has been taking residents from other nursing homes in eastern Connecticut to help stop the spread in other facilities.

But there also were eight deaths at the St. Joseph Living Center in Windham and six at facilities in Groton and Stonington.

Overall, there have been 3,841 COVID-19 deaths in the state’s nursing homes since March, or about 61% of all deaths in the state. The death rate has been significantly lower in long-term care facilities during the second wave of coronavirus infections over the past few months than it was in the spring.

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.

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