Maine’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities have seen fewer new COVID-19 outbreaks and related cases and deaths in recent weeks, though the decline may be due to the slowing pace of new cases overall rather than vaccination efforts.
The state saw 14 new COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities from Jan. 21 through Feb. 4, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, down from 21 new outbreaks in the previous two-week period.
The number of new COVID-19 cases associated with long-term care facility outbreaks dropped by 39 percent in that same period, to 448 new cases from Jan. 21 through Feb. 4 from 738 in the two weeks prior.
Outbreak-related deaths at long-term care facilities also slowed, to 50 from Jan. 21 through Feb. 4 from 61 in the previous two weeks.
TRACKING THE CORONAVIRUS IN MAINE
It’s a promising sign for places that have seen some of the worst effects of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic and the majority of the state’s 636 coronavirus deaths.
Dr. Jabbar Fazeli, a spokesperson for the Maine Medical Directors Association and a nursing home medical director in southern Maine, said the decline is unsurprising: COVID-19 cases began rising at Maine nursing homes as they rose in the rest of Maine a few months ago. Their decline has followed a decline in new case numbers for the state as a whole.
“You would expect the curve to continue to start declining just by the nature of the spread,” Fazeli said.
Vaccination efforts that prioritized medical workers and long-term care facility residents and employees early on have played a part in that decline, but how integral they are to the drop is uncertain, Fazeli said.
“Without the vaccination, we would have been worse,” he said. “How much worse? It’s hard to tell.”
It’s also uncertain whether the drop in long-term care outbreaks will continue, Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said.
“While [the decrease] is encouraging, the timeline has not been long enough to determine if this is a durable positive trend,” he said, adding that Mainers can help prevent COVID-19 cases in nursing homes by wearing masks and social distancing.
As of Feb. 4, the state had seen 121 COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities, with 52 of them considered active, according to the Maine CDC. Ninety-two of those outbreaks have begun since the start of November, when the state’s current surge of COVID-19 cases began.