The Ohio Department of Health added 1,294 long-term care deaths to its COVID-19 dashboard this week. Including deaths the state says occurred before April 15, the number of COVID-19 deaths at Ohio long-term care facilities has grown to 7,245.
However, the new data suggests the proportion of the state’s COVID-19 deaths that occur in these facilities is shrinking.
Approximately 1,150 of the deaths added Wednesday occurred in October through December. These deaths were part of the more than 4,000 deaths ODH failed to report until last week because an employee tasked with reconciling real-time death data from physicians and death certificates stopped matching these records at some point in October.
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Before the missing deaths were included in Ohio’s data, long-term care deaths made up roughly half of all deaths in Ohio. That percentage is now roughly 44% as of Wednesday’s update.
These numbers might still change. All data included on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard is preliminary and can be updated as more information is reported.
Additionally, new deaths are being reported each week, and the state is still reconciling and reviewing its death data in the aftermath of the missing cases being discovered, according to the dashboard.
"The decline in nursing home resident deaths can be attributed to a multi-layer strategy and the prioritization of protecting the Ohioans most at risk from COVID-19 death and severe illness," said department spokesperson Alicia Shoults in an emailed statement.
Shoults said the state's COVID-19 testing program, personal protective equipment (PPE) support, infection control strike teams and guidance for visitors all contributed to driving down the number of deaths.
Roughly one in four nursing homes reported PPE shortages in December, the deadliest month of the pandemic. Leaders in the field say the state does not do much to help facilities get supplies and instead leaves them to try and buy what expensive PPE they can find.
State data also shows COVID-19 case numbers are beginning to drop among long-term care facilities. The state reported only 317 new cases among residents Wednesday compared to 3,785 new cases reported Jan. 6.That's in part to vaccines distributed through the federal pharmacy program, which started in late December.
Another factor is the presence of COVID-19 in the community. According to a literature review by the Kaiser Family Foundation, multiple studies have found an association between long-term care cases and the prevalence of COVID-19 in their communities.
Cases started to fall generally across Ohio throughout January after they surged in December, although numbers are still higher than in the fall.
Even though the federal pharmacy program is almost finished with nursing home visits in Ohio, there is a plan in place to vaccinate residents and staff after the program is done.
Department of Aging director Ursel McElroy announced at the governor’s Thursday news conference the state was launching its program for long-term care facilities to vaccinate residents and staff after the federal pharmacy program is complete.
Under the state program, pharmacy partners will vaccinate residents and staff at facilities with which they have preexisting relationships. This would allow new residents and staff to get vaccinated, as well as give people who did not get vaccinated during the federal program visits another chance to get a vaccine.