Sunday, June 16, 2024

Cadbury Commons Assisted Living, seen in April 2020, was among facilities reporting new Covid cases over the past weekend. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The number of new Covid-19 infections continues to mount in some Cambridge nursing homes and assisted-living centers after months when there were few in long-term care facilities here. Sancta Maria Nursing Facility and Cadbury Commons Assisted Living reported multiple new cases over the past weekend: Sancta Maria, eight cases; and Cadbury Commons, nine cases. A federal report listed a dozen new Covid cases at Sancta Maria during two weeks ending Sept. 18, but some of these may overlap with the weekend figures.

Residents in long-term care face high risk from Covid-19 because of their age and poor health. Early in the pandemic, before vaccines, they suffered the highest losses; more nursing home and assisted-living residents in Cambridge have died of Covid than have residents living outside long-term care. The gap is narrowing, with 86 deaths among long-term care residents and 82 among residents in the community.

Public health officials gave much of their attention to long-term care facilities in 2020 and 2021, mandating vaccinations and protective equipment for staff and restricting visits. The federal government helped facilities vaccinate residents and staff. Now, most Covid requirements have ended, and federal authorities even recommended recently that masks be optional inside health care facilities, including nursing homes.

Asked how state officials are responding to the upturn in cases here, the state Department of Public Health and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs provided links to regulations requiring nursing homes and assisted-living residences to ensure that their staff be fully vaccinated and boosted, that nursing homes test residents for Covid and that assisted-living centers encourage residents to get vaccinated. The agencies didn’t say how they are enforcing the rules or if there are any violations in Cambridge.

The health department can freeze a nursing home’s admissions if it has 20 cases because of transmission in the past seven days or other deficiencies that endanger residents; admissions to Sancta Maria haven’t been frozen. Assisted-living residents can get help from health department specialists, and long-term care facilities can ask for help from a state “rapid response team”; it’s not known whether any Cambridge facility did.

Nursing homes earlier were under orders to have their staff fully boosted by Feb. 28. On Sept. 27 the state health department gave them until Dec. 1, apparently to provide time for workers to get the new omicron booster. Only 57 percent of employees at Sancta Maria were “up to date” on vaccines as of the week ending Sept. 18, meaning they’ve received the primary doses plus all the boosters for which they’re eligible, a federal report said.

All the staff at Cambridge Rehabilitation & Nursing Center and 99 percent at Neville Center at Fresh Pond were fully vaccinated and boosted, the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Vaccination rates at assisted-living facilities aren’t public; they too are required to have fully vaccinated and boosted staff.

Unlike staff, nursing home and assisted-living residents don’t have to get vaccinated. At Sancta Maria Nursing Facility, the recent outbreak may have persuaded more residents to get boosted; the rate of residents “up to date” on vaccinations rose from 80 percent to 86 percent between the weeks ending Sept. 11 and Sept. 18, according to federal data. During those two weeks there were a dozen Covid-19 cases among residents at Sancta Maria, the federal report said. (Federal, state and local case numbers often disagree, usually because of a difference in timing of reports.)

At Neville Center, the vaccination rate among residents remained 82 percent; and at Cambridge Rehabilitation, it inched up to 78 percent from 77 percent.

A national organization representing elders, AARP, warned Sept. 15 that nursing home residents and staff continue to fall short on boosters. The organization also said Covid deaths among nursing home residents are rising nationwide.