Long-term care facilities near 1,700 COVID-19 deaths as Moderna vaccine rolls out

Updated: Jan. 12, 2021 at 11:42 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday, new data from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control shows 1,678 long-term care facility residents and 28 staffers have died from COVID-19.

The combined death total represents 29 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

South Carolina set aside its allocation of the Moderna vaccine to help the facilities combat the virus.

The federal government partnered with the pharmacies CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccines on-site for willing residents and staff.

The FDA approved the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 18, and vaccinations began in South Carolina on Dec. 28.

On Tuesday, DHEC published data showing the state had released its 86,400 of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to the program.

It reports 12,928 doses have gone to residents, while 6,726 doses have gone to staff. That leaves 66,746 so far unaccounted for.

In a Jan. 11 call with news outlets, DHEC Interim Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler said she expects the administration rate to climb because the 86,400 doses represent the doses need for the full program (two shots per individual).

“It does take a few weeks to vaccinate all of the facilities in South Carolina, but they already had all of the doses. I expect that utilization rate to continue to increase steadily as they go through, and more and more facilities are offered vaccination,” she said.

Neither CVS nor Walgreens had an official available to comment, but a spokesperson for CVS directed WIS to a press release from early January.

It reads in part:

The company expects to complete administration of first doses in skilled nursing facilities by January 25, consistent with timelines originally shared with states and provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)....

....While uptake among residents remains encouragingly high, the actual number of residents is approximately 20 – 30 percent lower than facility projections that were based on bed count. Initial uptake among staff is low, part of which is likely due to facilities wanting to stagger vaccinations between visits.

A spokesperson for Walgreens directed WIS to a similar press release from Jan. 6.

It echoed the Jan. 25 timeline, stating:

Walgreens expects to complete the administration of COVID-19 vaccine first doses in skilled nursing facilities by Monday, Jan. 25. The company is also rapidly expanding access to vaccinations among assisted living facilities and additional vulnerable populations outlined by states and local jurisdictions as part of expanded distribution plans.

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There is an element of urgency in the rollout, long-term care facilities are amongst the hardest hit populations by the virus.

As of Jan. 12, the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in 344 facilities in the state limiting visitation to only the most dire circumstances, a situation that has caused public pushback.

Charleston-area resident Lynda Glover’s mother is in an assisted living facility in the area.

WIS is withholding the facility’s name to protect the woman’s identity.

It’s currently closed to visits due to the spread of COVID-19 within.

Glover said she is afraid for her mother’s safety and eager to see her vaccinated.

“You’re hearing on the news and different social media, they’re coming to senior living, assisted living, the vaccines are rolling in. I’m still getting ‘we don’t know when’ ‘we don’t know when’,” and I’m going come on,” she said.

Glover said her mother is scheduled to get the vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, so long as she does not test positive beforehand.

“If she were to get it and it went to her lungs, it would not be good. She’s been getting pneumonia and bronchitis over the last year, on and off,” she said.

Glover said she’s hopeful increased vaccinations in the facilities will result in a loosening of visitation rules. DHEC said the vaccination rates both inside and outside the facilities, along with community spread of the virus, will likely drive any changes.

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