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COVID-19 kills 26,000 in nursing homes

WASHINGTON — Nearly 26,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, the government reported Monday, as federal officials demanded states carry out more inspections and vowed higher fines for facilities with poor infection control.

The partial numbers released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are certain to go higher, as only about 80% of nursing homes have reported. Also, the federal data does not include assisted living facilities, which some states count in their coronavirus totals.

Monday’s report will add to the national soul-searching about the disproportionately high toll of the virus in nursing homes. It’s also likely to set off finger-pointing among federal agencies, state authorities and the industry over who is responsible for making things better. More than 60,000 people in nursing homes got sick as the coronavirus spread rapidly among frail residents.

Medicare and Medicaid Admin­istrator Seema Verma told reporters that hand-washing continues to be a challenge in some nursing homes and that many states — who are charged with determining compliance with federal standards — must double down on inspections. “There is no substitute for boots on the ground,” Verma said.

Her agency noted wide disparities among states in the percentage of homes they have inspected for infection controls since the outbreak accelerated in early March. West Virginia, for example, inspected 11% of its homes, while Colorado inspected 100%. The agency said failure to complete inspections could result in states seeing reduced COVID-19 relief funding.

The numbers showed a sobering toll among nursing home staffers, with more than 34,400 getting sick and nearly 450 dying from the coronavirus.

“This data, and anecdotal reports across the country, clearly show that nursing homes have been devastated by the virus,” wrote Verma and CDC Director Robert Redfield to governors.

Verma said 1 in 4 facilities had at least one COVID-19 case.

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