Instead of simply reporting how many coronavirus cases have been found in Louisiana nursing homes, the state also began reporting Wednesday the number of cases that actually originated at each facility.
That's an additional statistic health officials say paints a more accurate picture of outbreaks in centers housing Louisianans who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
State health officials said this week that families with loved ones in nursing homes have been alarmed when a facility in which their loved one lives reports high numbers of coronavirus cases each week. But in some cases, the high number of cases is misleading, because nursing homes set up isolation wards and took in patients from hospitals or other nursing homes.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, interim assistant secretary of public health at the Louisiana Department of Health, said the previous reporting system understandably raised alarms with people with relatives in nursing homes. But the data sometimes suggested lax infection-control practices when the real issue was the facility had been admitting and treating COVID-positive patients from other nursing homes, hospitals or elsewhere.
“A lot of them have been good stewards,” Kanter said.
He added that nursing homes that have the means and capacity to care for sick residents from other facilities are vital in the state’s fight against the virus.
The Care Center in Baton Rouge, for example, lists 66 cases among residents, according to the 145-bed facility’s latest report with the state. But less than half of those cases were contracted at the nursing home, according to the latest weekly report.
At Booker T. Washington Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Caddo Parish — which leads the state in most COVID-19 cases among residents at 219 — about 55 were contracted at the nursing home.
Nursing homes are required to report each week the number of cases to state and federal governments. The health department began listing cases in individual nursing homes in May, after weeks of only listing the total number of coronavirus cases and deaths statewide.
That has cast a light on the severity of Louisiana's outbreak, which has ravaged nursing homes and centers housing the elderly and infirm.
Of the 5,676 deaths tied to the coronavirus in Louisiana, about 43% were residents of the state’s more the 270 nursing homes, according to the latest state data available Wednesday.
Nursing homes have for months been a concern because residents are more susceptible. They often have more than one more underlying health problem, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Long-term care centers and nursing homes are also more susceptible to outbreaks because residents often live in close quarters and have frequent interactions with staff. Although employees and visitors are screened for COVID-19 symptoms, health officials have expressed concerns that some may unknowingly spread the virus before developing symptoms — and some who are infected don't show symptoms at all.
New coronavirus cases, both in nursing homes and across the state in general, have plateaued in recent weeks following a surge of infections this summer. That trend has also mirrored infections within care facilities in the state.
Nursing homes across Louisiana reported 109 new infections and 46 deaths among residents this past week, as well as 103 infections among employees, according to an analysis of state figures.
Nursing homes in the Acadiana region reported no new coronavirus cases among residents, only one new case was reported in the New Orleans metro area. Care facilities in East Baton Rouge Parish saw four new cases this past week, while other parishes in the capital region logged a total of 13 infections.