Advertisement

AARP calls for nursing home vaccine mandate as South Carolina’s resident cases, deaths sharply rise

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 9:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 9:02 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The number of COVID cases and deaths among South Carolina’s nursing home residents are as high as they have been since a surge last winter.

Now the AARP, the country’s largest senior advocacy organization, is calling for these facilities to require worker and resident vaccinations to curb this trend before it gets worse.

In South Carolina, the number of cases among nursing home residents at the end of August — 1.2 cases per 100 residents — was about six times higher than it was at the end of July — 0.2 cases — according to the AARP’s Nursing Home COVID Dashboard.

In that time span, resident deaths rose even more —nine times higher from 0.01 deaths per 100 residents in July to 0.09 deaths in August.

“Which is appalling,” AARP South Carolina State Director Teresa Arnold said of the rise in resident deaths. “Because there are so many good measures that could stop that.”

While the August reports of cases and deaths are not nearly as high as they were during a spike last winter, when the state’s nursing homes experienced 8.7 cases per 100 residents and 1.58 deaths per 100 residents, Arnold said this current increase needs to be addressed.

“I think family members with folks in nursing homes need to know this information,” she said.

“Vaccination is certainly our strongest weapon against COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality,” DHEC Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said. “The uptick in nursing homes is related, in large part, to the lack of vaccination among everyone.”

Many facilities are not requiring staff to be vaccinated at this point, and data shows a lot of those workers are choosing not to. According to the AARP dashboard, about 54.4% of South Carolina’s healthcare workers are fully vaccinated, the 12th lowest rate out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The vaccination rate for South Carolina’s nursing home residents also falls toward the bottom of the list, with the state’s 82.2% of fully vaccinated residents ranking 11th lowest.

“When you are working with the most vulnerable population, day in and day out, that’s a very simple thing to ask folks to do,” Arnold said, noting fully vaccinated residents are still at risk of breakthrough cases, as many of them are elderly and immunocompromised.

The AARP also reports cases among nursing home staff in South Carolina were about five times higher in August than they were in July, increasing from 0.5 cases per 100 staff members to 2.5 cases.

Arnold said they are concerned about how the low vaccination rate and subsequent infections would affect the workforce at nursing homes, with many facilities struggling to hire and retain workers and the employees they do have stretched thin after a long year-and-a-half.

“They have some of the hardest jobs in the state, and I applaud them for doing it,” Arnold said. “I just would also urge them to get vaccinated.”

People who work at some nursing homes and care facilities may be required to get vaccinated soon under the mandate President Joe Biden announced two weeks ago. The White House has said people working at facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid would have to get the shot.

But the AARP said it does not know exactly what the regulations will be yet, since they have yet to be publicly released, or who would fall under those requirements.

Copyright 2021 WIS. All rights reserved.

Notice a spelling or grammar error in this article? Click or tap here to report it. Please include the article’s headline.