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Nursing home residents account for a greater share of coronavirus deaths in Maine than in most other states that have reported data on long-term care facility deaths.
More than half of those who had died from the coronavirus in Maine as of Friday — 25 of 47 people — were nursing home residents, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 53 percent of Maine’s deaths from the highly contagious respiratory illness.
That figure places Maine among a handful of states where nursing home residents have accounted for a half or more of their coronavirus deaths, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah also reported rates of at least 50 percent. Delaware’s was highest, at 58 percent.
Kaiser only had relevant data for 23 states, not including Maine. In those states, 27 percent of all coronavirus deaths were connected to long-term care homes.
The statistics highlight how hard nursing homes have been hit by the virus that can transmit easily among people living in close quarters and whose complications can be most severe for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
As of Thursday, more than 10,000 long-term care facility residents and staff members had died from COVID-19 in the 23 states that had publicly reported those data. Nearly one in 10 nursing homes nationwide have reported a coronavirus case, according to a Washington Post analysis published earlier this week.
Maine has reported coronavirus outbreaks at six long-term care facilities, with 133 residents and 78 staff members testing positive. Their cases account for more than a fifth — nearly 22 percent — of the state’s total confirmed cases. Nursing home staff members account for about a third of the 238 health care workers in Maine who have become infected with the coronavirus since the virus was first detected in the state more than a month ago.
“Nursing homes can be a hotbed for COVID-19 transmission,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Friday.
It isn’t surprising that more than half of Maine people who have died from the coronavirus are nursing home residents, Shah said.
Maine has been ahead of other states in prioritizing a limited supply of coronavirus tests for residents of congregate care facilities such as nursing homes, he said, and the state was also among the first to offer tests to all nursing home residents and staff at the first sign of an outbreak. An outbreak is three or more connected cases.
The testing has allowed the state to more accurately categorize those nursing home residents’ deaths as coronavirus-related, which affects the number of reported coronavirus deaths connected to nursing homes, Shah said.
“Right now, probably our primary area of focus from an outbreak prevention and intervention standpoint is nursing homes,” he said. “We’re learning a bit more, but it’s also highlighting the challenges of preventing transmission once it’s introduced into a facility.”
Case numbers have quickly grown in the long-term care facilities in Maine that have reported outbreaks.
At the facility with the largest outbreak, the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation, a handful of staff members who initially tested negative and were assigned to care for uninfected residents later were retested and confirmed positive.
As of Friday, 47 residents and 28 staff members had tested positive at that center. Four residents had died, according to the Maine CDC.
Shah has pointed to the Maine Veterans’ Homes facility in Scarborough as an example of how it’s possible to contain an outbreak. The facility’s quick isolation of infected residents and measures to keep staff from moving between wings with infected and uninfected residents likely controlled the virus’ spread, he has said.
All positive tests so far have been limited to a single wing of the facility, suggesting it hasn’t spread to other sections of the home. Thirty residents and 20 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus there. Eleven residents have died.
Watch: The new way that Maine is classifying some COVID-19 cases