ST. LOUIS — COVID-19 has killed 650 residents and 13 employees of federally licensed nursing homes in Missouri, according to the latest available federal data.
At least 3,561 other residents and 2,285 employees have been infected as of Aug. 16, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported Sunday.
That is up from 502 deaths and 2,163 other infections among residents in Missouri nursing homes as of July 19, according to the agency, which collects reports on COVID-19 infections from 15,000 federally licensed nursing homes across the country, including 522 in Missouri.
The new cases are part of a rise in COVID-19 caseloads in the general population of Missouri over the summer. In the last week of June, the state’s nursing homes reported 144 new COVID-19 infections of residents, CMS reports. Weekly infections rose to 410 by Aug. 16, the most recent seven-day period for which data is available.
“The nursing homes are definitely not out of the woods,” said Majorie Moore, with VOYCE, a Creve Coeur-based nonprofit that advocates for nursing home residents. “The more COVID-19 spreads in our community the greater the chance that somebody in a nursing home is going to get it.”
The deaths in recent weeks were largely concentrated in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, CMS reports, with 37 deaths across St. Louis and St. Louis County and 7 deaths in St. Charles County, CMS reports.
NHC HealthCare in Maryland Heights, an acute skilled-nursing facility that houses patients of strokes or other serious illnesses, has recorded 33 resident deaths of COVID-19 since the pandemic’s start, the highest death toll at any home in the state.
The federal agency’s data only hints at the toll the virus has taken on facilities housing residents in need of critical care. It includes only nursing homes licensed by the agency, and does not include all assisted-living communities and other types of residential care facilities, as St. Louis County and Missouri state data have.
At least 416 residents of 81 care homes in St. Louis County have died of the virus as of July 27, according to county records. That is up from 375 deaths as of June 25. At least 1,798 other residents have been infected.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has refused to publicly identify state-licensed care homes with COVID-19, but reported Wednesday that it has counted 572 residents of the homes dead of COVID-19. And 2,983 residents and 2,004 staff have tested positive for the disease. The state previously only reported the number of state-licensed facilities in each Missouri county with at least one infection: 110 facilities in St. Louis County, 23 in St. Louis, 32 in St. Charles County and 13 in Jefferson County.
Other states, like Illinois, publicly report care homes with COVID-19 cases. There, 3,000 residents of federally licensed nursing homes have died of the virus as of Aug. 16, up from 2,601 as of July 19, the agency reports. And 10,767 other residents have been infected.
Nationally, more than 49,871 residents of federally licensed nursing homes have died of the coronavirus as of Aug. 18, up from 40,274 as of July 19, according to the agency. And 198,153 other residents have tested positive for the disease.
Uptick in cases In recent weeks, COVID infection rates have surged primarily among people younger than 40 in Missouri, but older adults still make up the majority of deaths, according to an August report by the nonprofit Leading Age. The virus is particularly dangerous to older adults and can exacerbate otherwise nonfatal medical conditions such as asthma.
According to St. Louis County records, for example, long-term care facilities account for 16% of the virus’ spread in the county and about 64% of all COVID-19 deaths.
Care homes in the St. Louis region still bar indoor visits from residents’ family and friends, but the virus can reach homes through employees or contractors who are infected elsewhere in the community, Moore said.
“Facilities are working hard as much as they can prevent some of that,” she said. “But they’re struggling,” she said, amid funding and staffing challenges, and shortages of tests or protective equipment.
About 8% of nursing homes in Missouri lack a one-week supply of regulation N-95 face masks used by health care workers, 5% lack a week’s supply of surgical masks and 7% lack a week’s supply of gowns, Leading Age reports.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, an industry group, has lobbied Congress for aid. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week announced nearly $84 million to support 520 skilled-nursing homes in Missouri. That followed $165 million from the department to Missouri nursing homes earlier this year.
Cameras in rooms A new Missouri law allows nursing-home residents to install video cameras in their rooms starting Thursday. The proposal, introduced years ago, passed the Legislature in the spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But many families won’t be allowed into facilities to install the cameras due to COVID-19 restrictions, Moore said. VOYCE, which is offering to help families navigate consent requirements and other regulations to install the cameras, recommends families prepare to install cameras as soon as homes reopen.
Many residents have suffered harmful effects to their physical and mental health under shutdowns designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which have barred them from indoor visits with family and group activities with other residents, Moore said.
“It’s been almost 6 months now,” she said, “that’s a long time to go without seeing our loved ones.”