California says 40% of coronavirus-related deaths are at nursing homes. Is it higher?

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By Anita ChabriaAlene Tchekmedyian, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2020

National Guard Sgt. Joseph Schlitz enters the Hollywood Premier Healthcare Center on April 24.
National Guard Sgt. Joseph Schlitz enters the Hollywood Premier Healthcare Center last week. The facility has seen 25 cases among staff and 29 among residents. 
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)


California earlier this week reported, for the first time, that nearly 40% of coronavirus-related deaths had occurred at skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities.

As of April 28, 578 residents of nursing homes had died. As of April 25, 144 deaths had occurred in assisted living facilities. Additionally, 11 healthcare workers have died after contracting the virus in a nursing home setting.

The state has refused a request to identify where the deaths occurred. Also, the newly released data are incomplete, a Los Angeles Times analysis found, missing multiple facilities with known outbreaks and not including facilities with six or fewer beds, of which there are hundreds.

Mike Dark, staff attorney at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates for people in long-term care, said during a town hall Tuesday that he believes the numbers represent an undercount.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said there were outbreaks in 192 of 1,224 skilled nursing facilities in the state, Dark said he believes “the virus is widespread in California facilities.”

The data also only include deaths known by the facility, according to a state spokeswoman. It may not include deaths that occurred after a resident was transferred to a hospital, a private home or other location.

On Friday, state and local officials announced new measures aimed at tackling the surging fatality rate through more aggressive regulations and help from the California National Guard, which will go into nursing homes to boost staffing levels.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, touted an order that expands testing to both symptomatic and asymptomatic staff and residents, bans visitors, suspends communal dining, and requires staff and residents alike to wear protective equipment. The moves are designed to get a better sense of how many people in the homes have contracted the coronavirus and to limit access to outsiders who could either bring in the virus or acquire it themselves.

The deployment of California National Guard teams is aimed at bolstering staff, as more and more healthcare workers become infected, are scared to come to work, or are sidelined by self-isolation.

Faced with the mounting toll, industry lobbyists have petitioned Newsom to protect them from liability.

Dark said that removal of liability would remove “one of the last safety nets residents in these facilities have.”