US nursing homes experienced an average of three Covid-19 outbreaks, with the longest outbreaks lasting for an average of more than nine weeks, according to a report published Wednesday by the US Government Accountability Office.
The GAO analyzed data submitted to the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from May 2020 through January 2021 for more than 13,000 nursing homes and representing about 88% of CMS-certified nursing homes. An outbreak is defined as starting the week a nursing home reports a new case in a resident or staff member and ends when there have been no new cases in two consecutive weeks.
About 85% of the nursing homes analyzed experienced at least one outbreak that lasted for more than a month and more than a quarter experienced at least one outbreak that lasted three months or longer.
Only 64 nursing homes – less than 1% – had no Covid-19 outbreak, and another 761 nursing homes – about 6% – had only one outbreak during the eight months analyzed.
The length of outbreaks varied by state, the GAO report found. Outbreaks lasting more than a month were most common in Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Carolina and Tennessee and least common in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
The report also found that most outbreaks – about 66% – began with a staff member that tested positive, and nursing homes with more beds were more likely to have outbreaks that lasted longer than a month.
Covid-19 has disproportionately affected nursing home residents, but CMS data shows that new Covid-19 cases and deaths have decreased dramatically since vaccinations began.