Staff and residents get vaccinated Jan. 14 at Neville Center in the Cambridge Highlands. (Photo: Marc Levy)

As Covid-19 cases in Cambridge continue an unprecedented spike, almost all staff who care for vulnerable residents at Cambridge’s three nursing homes are fully vaccinated against the virus, federal data show. But it’s a different story for booster shots – in two facilities less than one-third of eligible employees have received a booster and in the third, there’s a much higher but still lagging rate of 68 percent.

And now, there’s an apparent outbreak in one nursing home, Neville Center at Fresh Pond. Neville Center reported on Wednesday that eight of its residents and 10 staff had tested positive for Covid-19. On Thursday the nursing home, one of the few that discloses cases publicly, said six residents and 11 employees were newly infected. One Neville Center resident has died from the virus, according to a state health department daily report Dec. 27.

Angela Penney, a spokesperson for the management company that operates the nursing home, Landmark Management Solutions, said that Neville Center is “experiencing, as the entire country [and] world is experiencing, an uptick in cases.”

She said the nursing home follows state and federal guidance and “we follow infection control practices that enable us to care for any resident that is infected with Covid-19 in-house or that we admit from the hospital.” Neville established an isolation unit last year that accepts patients with Covid-19 discharged from a hospital; that unit had five infected patients Dec. 27, the nursing home reported on its website.

When the Cambridge Public Health Department was asked how it’s responding to the Neville outbreak, spokesperson Dawn Baxter said the state Department of Public Health “has regulatory authority over long-term care facilities.” The city agency can “provide guidance to Cambridge facilities as requested,” she said. She didn’t say whether Neville had requested any help.

Resident who’ve had their shots

Besides staff as a possible source, not all nursing home residents in Cambridge are fully vaccinated and fewer have received a booster shot; at Neville the vaccination rate for residents was 93 percent and 88 percent of those eligible had gotten boosters as of Dec. 12, the most recent available data.

The figures for residents at Cambridge Rehabilitation & Nursing Center were 98 percent fully vaccinated and 84 percent with boosters; Sancta Maria Nursing Facility reported 98 percent of residents fully vaccinated and 92 percent boosted. Statewide, 95 percent of nursing home residents were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 20, and 82 percent had received a booster shot.

Federal, state and local health officials have urged all eligible for a booster to get one. There is evidence that two shots of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and one dose of Johnson & Johnson provide reduced protection against getting infected with the burgeoning omicron variant although all three vaccines still cut the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death.

Nursing home staff vaccinations

Nursing home residents are more likely to progress to severe disease because of their age and poor health. The federal government and Massachusetts require nursing home workers to be fully vaccinated against Covid and they recommend but don’t mandate boosters. As of Dec. 20, the state Department of Public Health says,100 percent of nursing home staff in Massachusetts were fully vaccinated – a 23 percent increase after the state mandate in August – and 46 percent had received a booster.

The state hasn’t disclosed figures for individual homes, though. Those numbers are available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but are more than two weeks old, with the latest information from Dec. 12. They show that at Neville Center, 98 percent of employees were fully vaccinated and 31 percent had received a booster. At Cambridge Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, 100 percent of staff were fully vaccinated and 23 percent had received a booster. Sancta Maria Nursing Facility had the highest numbers, with 100 percent fully vaccinated and 68 percent boosted.

Daily reports of Covid-19 infections and deaths among residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted-living centers, mandated by a state law, show a spatter of cases in Cambridge. Until recently the city’s daily data center didn’t register any increases in long-term care cases and when it did, the numbers didn’t agree with those reported by facilities. Baxter said the city gets its figures from the state’s disease tracking system,Maven, and that the numbers don’t include people who don’t live in Cambridge, such as people getting short-term rehabilitation in a nursing home.

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