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.
“It’s our intention to make that information public,” Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said during a call with reporters, adding that details were still being worked out on when or how the information would be distributed.
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 8,496 deaths linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide.
But the true toll of the mostly frail and elderly people who live in such facilities is likely much higher, experts say, because many homes have not reported their deaths and state counts may not include those who died without ever being tested.
Some of the biggest outbreaks since have included 55 deaths at a nursing home in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, 49 at a home outside Richmond, Virginia, 48 at a veteran’s home in Holyoke, Mass., and at least 40 deaths each at five homes in outer boroughs of New York City.