Thousands of nursing homes still don't have enough gloves, N95 masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to safeguard staff and residents from a potential coronavirus outbreak, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
The U.S. PIRG examined data voluntarily submitted to federal health officials by nursing homes in May through August. Almost 3,000 nursing homes said they had less than a week's worth of PPE on hand, according to the data.
Nursing homes have an essential need for PPE because workers there are caring for seniors and other residents who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
"It's critical because an outbreak could wipe out their supply in a day or two," wrote U.S. PIRG's Teresa Murray and Jamie Friedman of Frontier Group, the report's co-authors. "In addition, it's a huge problem because [nursing] homes don't necessarily know when they're going to get more of a particular item."
PPE shortages are once again taking place just as the nation is experiencing a third wave in COVID-19 cases. More than 83,000 new cases were reported on two consecutive days this week, marking an all-time daily high in new cases for the U.S. since the pandemic started.
It's particularly important that nursing home workers get PPE not only to protect residents and themselves, but to prevent wider spread of the virus among family members when they return home from work or anyone they might come into contact with in public places, the U.S. PIRG said.
With at least 84,000 deaths tied to them, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for the elderly have been marked as COVID-19 hot spots, according to a New York Times database.
Data published this week from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that nursing homes account for more than 40% of all COVID-19 deaths. The foundation also found that there were more deaths at nursing homes with Black and Latino residents.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked nursing homes to report their monthly inventory of masks, gowns, eye protection, gloves and hand sanitizer. Masks and gowns had the highest shortage – particularly in New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont and West Virginia. Hand sanitizer was the item they were running low on the least.
Some states experienced a PPE shortage immediately after one-off outbreaks, such as a COVID-19 surge that followed the Sturgis motorcycle rally this summer in South Dakota, Murray and Friedman said.
In other states, the shortages are harder to explain.
"In states like New Hampshire, cases and deaths dropped dramatically in late June and remained relatively low the rest of the summer [so] there's no immediate indication why PPE was in such short supply," the co-authors wrote in their report, adding, "Overall, the shortages likely were caused by myriad reasons: outbreaks, economics, poor planning or politics or some combination of those."