The Latest Science on How COVID Impacts Nursing Homes


When the novel coronavirus first hit the United States, its impact was greatest in nursing homes throughout the nation. These remain the epicenter of some of the disease’s worst outbreaks. It’s easy to see why: not only do these facilities house those most vulnerable to the illness, many harbor unsanitary conditions and suffer numerous other forms of neglect.

The problematic nature of COVID within nursing homes is confirmed in the latest scientific studies, which hold alarming findings. Below, we highlight the implications of the most relevant research — and how it might influence mitigation efforts moving forward.

The Importance of Early Tests

Early on in the pandemic, many members of the medical community assumed that symptomatic surveillance was most capable of highlighting emerging nursing home outbreaks. Since then, however, research published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that self-reporting may not be reliable — especially as compared to testing. University of Michigan researchers cite “nonspecific protean manifestations and a wide range of clinical severity” as limiting the reliability of symptom reporting.

Nursing Homes Responsible For a Significant Share of COVID-19 Deaths

Based on anecdotal evidence, most people have long assumed that a significant subset of COVID cases involve nursing homes. Such suspicions are confirmed in data highlighted by The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

With 42 percent of deaths occurring in nursing homes, it’s clear that this population is uniquely vulnerable to the disease. Experts estimate that outside of New York state, as many as 52 percent of deaths may involve long-term care facilities.