Why Are Nursing Homes so Afflicted by COVID-19?

February 15, 2021
Kevin Kunzmann

A new study suggests nursing homes with more people of color are actually at three-fold greater risk of COVID-19 mortality.

Perhaps no population has been more adversely affected by the deadly risks of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) than US nursing home and long-term care facility residents.

Per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40% of all COVID-19 deaths have been associated with the elder, in-need residents of long-term care facilities. By the CDC’s most recent count, more than 264,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the US have involved persons aged 75 years and older. Add the population aged 65 years and older, and they account for 81% of all deaths in the US from COVID-19.

What’s more, it’s currently clear the virus has disproportionately burdened people of color in the US. CDC data suggest the percentage difference between the rate of COVID-19 deaths and their total representation of the US population is about 20% for Hispanics, and 10% for non-Hispanic Blacks. For Whites, it’s nearly negative 30%.

These are the discriminately burdened communities of COVID-19, and there’s plenty reason to believe the risks blend among key populations.

A new study from the University of Chicago shows nursing homes with the highest proportions of non-White residents experienced COVID-19 death counts that were more 3 times greater than those of facilities with the highest proportions of White residents.

The findings, from Rebecca Gorges, PhD, of the University of Chicago, and colleagues, showed factors including larger nursing home size and higher infection burden in counties were key differences in which nursing homes with high proportions of non-White residents were located.

As the world continue through a phase of the pandemic where more transmissible virus variants have become prevalent, Gorges and colleagues are calling on the use of available, yet limited, available resources for facilities with high proportions of non-White residents to support nursing homes during potential future outbreaks.