Vaccine brings new hope to Wisconsin long-term care facilities

New data point to a dramatic decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at long-term care facilities.

Residents and staff were among the first groups to begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin. Officials say 155,000 shots have now been administered at facilities in the state.

The group, which includes both skilled nursing and assisted living homes, makes up about 1% of the national population but accounts for 30% of coronavirus-related deaths.

A new report shows COVID-19 cases in nursing homes across the country have decreased 82% since Dec. 20, 2020 -- a trend local health inspectors are seeing as well.

"During the peak of the pandemic, they were going to 50, 60, I think even 70 nursing homes in a week. And for the last few weeks, that’s been in the single digits and for next week, we have zero nursing homes to inspect," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, Wisconsin Department of Health Services deputy secretary.

State health leaders say the data prove the vaccine is working. CVS and Walgreens pharmacies are currently administering vaccinations at hundreds of long-term care facilities as part of a three-visit series in the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program.

"Right now, they are about 42% of the way through their third clinics at the skilled nursing facilities," said Stephanie Schauer, program manager with the DHS Division of Public Health Immunization.

The same national report also shows coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes are down 63%. The drop comes after such Wisconsin residents experienced the highest rates of deaths from the virus compared to any other population during the pandemic.

Rick Abrams, the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living president and CEO, said not only does it mean more lives are being saved, but the quality of life is also improving.

"The most difficult thing, certainly for the residents, certainly for their families, but also for long-term care facility staff, is that residents could not see their friends and their loved (ones)," Abrams said. "That’s beginning to change."

Abrams said more facilities are beginning to reopen their doors to visitors while still taking precautions to keep everyone safe.

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