La. nursing homes begin seeing new COVID-19 cases

Doctors says age is a risk factor even in vaccinated individuals
Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 7:17 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The surge in COVID-19 cases is not bypassing Louisiana nursing homes. Some nursing homes are seeing new cases among residents and staffers.

Dr. Benjamin Springgate is LSU Health Chief of Community and Population Medicine.

“It’s not entirely surprising. While we know that most older people who are the residents of nursing homes of course have been vaccinated certainly there are some who are not but also there are many people who work in nursing homes who are unvaccinated and some who move from nursing home to nursing home,” said Springgate.

Dr. Joe Kanter is the Louisiana Department of Health’s State Health Officer. He addressed the cases surfacing in nursing homes during a Friday afternoon press conference held by Governor John Bel Edwards.

“Two weeks ago, we had 72 new cases amongst our senior home residents, this past week we had 136. Two weeks ago, we had three deaths amongst nursing home residents, this past week we had eight deaths and two weeks ago we had 166 new cases among nursing [home] staff and this past week we had 246,” said Kanter.

Kanter says 86% of nursing home residents have completed or had one dose of the vaccine and 50% of staffers.

Springgate says the early in the pandemic older people were hard hit by the virus.

“We know that the majority of deaths for COVID-19 patients occur in older adults and the overwhelming majority in people ages 50 or older,” he said.

And he said that is concerning for a number of reasons.

“Yes, it’s definitely concerning that case numbers are ticking up among this vulnerable population, of older adults, people who live in nursing homes, for example. There’s not a lot of physiologic leeway there. Some have chronic conditions, they’re age 70 or 80 the body can’t tolerate significant, severe infections very well,” said Springgate.

And among the affected nursing homes is Jefferson Healthcare Center in Jefferson Parish. The facility sent out a letter stating that three residents and five employees tested positive for COVID-19.

And the Archdiocese of New Orleans said on Friday that at its three nursing homes it had a total of three residents contract the virus over the last month and of those who did they were all vaccinated. Further, the archdiocese said two of the three residents had no symptoms and one had very mild symptoms. Also, it said six employees tested positive between the three facilities and they were all unvaccinated.

Kanter said the recent nursing home COVID cases are low in comparison to some previous outbreaks.

“Compared to what the increases were during the three prior spikes they’re relatively small; they’re highly significant if you’re at that nursing home,” said Kanter.

Age can also affect the immune response to vaccines said Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee, Region 1 Medical Director for the Louisiana Department of Health.

“If they are of advanced age this may lead to their vaccination response not being as robust as others,” she said.

Still, she and other doctors recommend that the old and the young be vaccinated against the virus.

“All we have to do is look at the current data here in Louisiana, here at home where 90% of the hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in people who are unvaccinated,” said Springgate.

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