Calling nursing homes ground zero of the coronavirus crisis, federal officials said Monday they plan to start tracking and publicly sharing information on infections and deaths in such facilities to help spot trends and early signs the virus is spreading in communities.
The move comes as critics, industry officials and local leaders have called for more aggressive actions by the federal government to track infections in homes and contain outbreaks by helping them get greater access to testing and masks, especially given the vulnerability of elderly residents.
Locally, officials at the Virginia Department of Health told WYDaily last week they not releasing which long-term care/senior care facilities on the Peninsula have positive cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and they are not those facilities know about other nursing homes with coronavirus cases.
Because the federal government has not been releasing a count of its own, The Associated Press has been keeping its own tally from media reports and state health departments, finding at least 8,426 deaths linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide.
The agency that oversees nursing homes says homes could start reporting information by the end of this week but didn’t say when or how that data will be distributed.
For the federal tracking of infections, Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said homes could start reporting by the end of this week and that questionnaires from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will collect information on deaths as well as confirmed and suspected cases, including among workers. She also said nursing homes will also be required to tell patients and family members within 12 hours of a confirmed infection.
Federal officials have come under increased pressure to start publicly tracking coronavirus infections and deaths in nursing homes and assisted/senior living facilities amid criticism they have not been transparent about the scope of outbreaks that have already claimed thousands of lives.
Experts say that lack of transparency has been a major blindspot, and that publicizing outbreaks as they happen could not only alert nearby communities but also help officials see where to focus testing and other safety measures.
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