Idaho officials: 1 in 4 COVID deaths was in nursing homes

December 15, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — One out of every four COVID-19 deaths in Idaho was among residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, public health officials said Tuesday.

“Just a few days ago on Friday, Dec. 2, the state crossed the grim milestone of 1,000 COVID deaths among long-term care residents,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said during a briefing on Tuesday. “I would encourage all of those who live or work at a long-term care facility to choose to get vaccinated.”

Just under 46% of Idaho residents are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, according to numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the state’s older adults are vaccinated at a much higher rate than their younger counterparts. Long-term care residents and staffers were the first to become eligible for coronavirus vaccines a year ago, said deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner, and that has helped reduce deaths.

Between April and November 2021, 1 in 5 long-term care residents became infected with coronavirus and the COVID-19 mortality rate for the long-term care population was around 3%, Turner said. During the same period in 2021, that mortality rate decreased by nearly 60%.

In fact, Turner said, Idaho adults aged 65 and older are now dying at nearly half the rate than they did last year.

Still, the pandemic remains particularly difficult for long-term care residents and workers, said Dr. Megan Dunay, a geriatric medicine specialist at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Residents are still subjected to frequent COVID-19 testing and prevention measures, and outbreaks still require facilities to undergo strict containment and treatment protocols, she said. The testing is often “deeply upsetting” for patients with dementia or developmental disabilities, Dunay said, and protective face masks can make it difficult to communicate with residents who can’t hear well.

Testing frequency is determined by the level of COVID-19 infections in the communities outside nursing homes, Dunay said, so reducing the spread of coronavirus in the community is vital to improving elders’ quality of life.

“These are real people ... who have contributed to their families, communities, state and nation for decades,” Dunay said. “They deserve our respect and they deserve our gratitude.”