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COVID rates plunge in Michigan nursing homes following vaccinations

nursing home
Families of loved ones in Michigan nursing homes say many facilities are once again tightening restrictions on visitation, even among people who are vaccinated. (Shutterstock)

Widespread vaccinations at Michigan’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for senior citizens have helped cause a steep decline in coronavirus cases.

Among nursing-home residents, the drop is massive — a 91 percent decrease in weekly coronavirus cases from Dec. 28 until Monday.


That decline, and an 83 percent decrease among staff, far exceeded the state’s overall 65 percent decline in coronavirus infections over that time — trends that could add to the growing proof of the vaccines’ effectiveness.

“I think vaccines had a huge role to play,” said Dr. Teena Chopra, a professor of infectious diseases at Wayne State University who leads infection control for the Detroit Medical Center’s eight hospitals.

It’s welcome news because nursing homes and other facilities for seniors have accounted for 37 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Of the 15,273 confirmed deaths, 5,515 have been residents at long-term care facilities. Another 79 employees at those facilities have died from COVID-19.

When vaccinations began, the state worked with CVS and Walgreens to bring the vaccine to hundreds of nursing homes, homes for the aged and other senior citizen facilities. Since late December, just over 200,000 doses have been administered to residents and staff at those facilities.

That week, the state reported that there were 827 new coronavirus infections among residents and 738 among staff. On Monday the state reports 73 new cases among residents and 125 among staff


State officials told Bridge the vaccines are part of the reason for the decline, noting that the state’s “pause” on indoor dining and other activities from mid-November until earlier this year also helped push cases down across the state.

On Dec. 1, the state averaged 6,500 cases a day and 13 percent of all coronavirus tests were positive. The state is now averaging 850 cases a day and just over 3 percent of tests are positive.

“Getting Michigan’s long-term care residents vaccinated is a high priority as we know this is the best way to protect this vulnerable population,” said Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

“We feel vaccinations are also playing a role, however, not all residents and staff have received both doses, so at this time we can’t say how much they are contributing to the decline.”

So far, more than 1.2 million people in Michigan have gotten one dose of the vaccine and of those another 652,000 have gotten both doses, representing 15 percent of all people 16 years old and older and 37 percent of those 65 and older.

Studies out of Israel have shown that vaccines have pushed down infection rates, especially among the elderly, who were among the vaccine priority groups there as they are in the United States.

According to one study, infections among people 60 and older— 90 percent of whom had gotten the vaccine — fell 41 percent. Those under 60 years old, 30 percent of whom had the vaccine, saw cases drop just 12 percent.

Chopra said the data out of Israel and from Michigan’s nursing homes is proof the move to vaccinate older Americans first was the correct decision. In Michigan, 90 percent of all deaths have occurred among people 60 years old and older. 

But beyond limiting the number of infections, it appears the vaccine is also minimizing the impact of new infections on people who have had the vaccine but are not yet completely immunized.

Dr. Raza Haque, director of the geriatrics division within the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, said he saw three nursing home residents last week who had had the vaccine but contracted COVID-19.

Each had other health issues that would make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 but he said each just suffered mild symptoms, which is one of the benefits of the vaccine.

Bringing down cases at nursing homes has come at a cost, however, including strict limits on most face-to-face visitations with family. Haque said he hopes the decline in cases, aided by the impact of vaccinations, will allow the state to ease those restrictions and allow families to see — and touch — their loved ones.

“That would be helpful,” he said. “And I think the vaccine is on the reasons we can talk about (allowing face-to-face contact).

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