Nursing Homes Confront New Covid Outbreaks Amid Calls for Staff Vaccination Mandates

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Underscoring the concern of regulators about unvaccinated workers, Colorado just implemented a new rule that unvaccinated staff members at nursing homes must be tested for the virus, using a rapid test, every time they come to work. California is now requiring health care workers in the state to be vaccinated or undergo frequent testing.

Feelings are raw among nursing home staff and operators.

“I don’t want to lose anyone else,” said Marita Smith, administrator at Saint Anne Nursing and Rehab Center in Seattle. Eight of 32 residents died of Covid early on in the pandemic, including four who were already on hospice. Ms. Smith says the losses help explain why all 52 staff members have been vaccinated.

“I question their reason for being in the business if they don’t get it,” Ms. Smith said. “You just don’t want to turn your back.”

Some nursing home staff members resisting vaccination argue that they can protect residents without being inoculated. “I go home, stay home as much as possible, do grocery pickup instead of shopping, do a lot of hand washing. I’m not exposing myself to other people,” said Jessica M., a director of nursing at a home in Grand Junction, Colo., who is unvaccinated.

She declined to give her last name because she wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. She added that she wanted to make sure “the side effects aren’t worse than protecting someone from Covid.”

But consumer advocates and others point to the difficulties nursing homes have long had in protecting residents from infection. A government report issued in May found that nursing homes averaged three Covid outbreaks from May 2020 through January 2021, with two-thirds reporting the outbreaks began with an infected staff member testing positive.

At ArchCare, the Catholic group that operates nursing homes and other facilities in New York City, “I think it’s just a matter of time before I have to mandate the vaccine across all the programs,” said Scott LaRue, the chief executive.