Hospitalizations signal rising COVID-19 risk for US seniors – Boston News, Weather, Sports

Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are on the rise again in the United States, with older adults accounting for a growing share of US deaths and less than half of nursing home residents being aware of COVID-19 vaccinations.

These alarming signs point to a difficult winter for seniors, worrying 81-year-old care home resident Bartley O’Hara, who said he’s “vaccinated to the eyeballs” and following trends in coronavirus hospitals as they work for older adults “zoom in”. , but remain flat for younger folks.

“The sense of urgency is not pervasive,” said O’Hara of Washington, DC. But “if you’re 21, you should probably be worried about your grandma. We’re all in the same boat.”

A worrying indicator for seniors: Hospitalizations for people with COVID-19 rose more than 30% in two weeks. Much of the increase is due to older people and people with existing health conditions, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers include all people who tested positive, regardless of why they are admitted.

When it comes to protecting elders, “we’re doing a terrible job in this country,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

As care home leaders redouble their efforts to empower staff and residents with the new vaccine version, now recommended for people 6 months and older, they face complacency, misinformation and COVID-19 fatigue. They are asking the White House for help with an “all hands on deck” approach.

Clear messages about what the vaccine can – and cannot – do are needed, said Katie Smith Sloan, president of LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit care homes.

Breakthrough infections don’t mean the vaccine has failed, she said, but that misperception has been difficult to combat.

“We need to change our messages to be exactly what they do, which is to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” Sloan said. “This virus is insidious and just pops up everywhere. We just have to be honest.”

Problems include the unwarranted reluctance to quickly prescribe the antiviral pill Paxlovid to older people, prompting five major medical societies to hold a web-based training session for physicians, “Vax & Pax: How to Keep Your Patients Safe This Winter.”

Easing of restrictions, broader immunity in the general population and mixed messages about whether the pandemic is over have allayed younger adults’ sense of threat. That might be a welcome development for most, but this attitude has permeated nursing homes in disturbing ways.

Getting family consent to vaccination of nursing home residents has become more difficult, nursing home leaders say. Some residents, who can give their own consent, oppose the recordings. Only 23% of nursing home staff are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations.

Cissy Sanders, of Austin, Texas, encountered several obstacles while attempting to get a booster shot for her 73-year-old mother, who is in a nursing home. No refresher clinic was planned. The facility told her they could not find a vaccine. So she planned to take her mom to Walgreens later this month.

“I am concerned about the increase in hospital admissions and deaths among the elderly and the lack of urgency at my mother’s nursing home to get residents and staff up to date with the latest booster shot,” she said.

Staff and visitors are potential entry points for the virus into care homes. The best facilities are taking a multi-pronged approach, protecting residents with masks, screening questions, temperature checks and enhanced infection control.

“What we have learned during COVID is that the rate of spread depends on the rate of spread in the community,” said Tina Sandri, CEO of Forest Hills of DC, a nursing home in the nation’s capital. “I feel safer in my building than anywhere else, including the grocery store.”

Meanwhile, hospitals across the country are seeing an influx of elderly patients that Topol describes as “quite alarming.” The rate of daily hospitalizations for people aged 70 and older with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 rose from 8.8 per 100,000 people on Nov. 15 to 12.1 per 100,000 people on Dec. 6, according to Health Department statistics, according to Human Services. In California and New York, Topol said, hospitalizations for seniors with COVID-19 have already surpassed spring and summer Omicron waves.

At NYU Langone Health, the hospital’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Michael Phillips that an increasing number of seniors are being admitted to his hospital with COVID-19. But the biggest increase he’s seen is in the emergency room “which is very, very busy” with COVID-19, as well as flu patients.

dr Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas, said his hospital has also seen a spike in COVID-19 admissions in recent weeks – and many of the patients are seniors with other health conditions. Some are admitted for various illnesses and test positive for COVID-19 in the hospital. The good news? “We haven’t seen an increase in ICU admissions,” he said.

Targeting both Omicron and the original coronavirus, the new combined booster shot offers protection against one of the key Omicron variants driving cases up lately: BQ.1.1, which is particularly adept at escaping immunity.

“But our booster rates in seniors are pitifully low,” Topol said, with only about a third getting the shot.

Long said healthcare providers at Houston Methodist promote the booster “every opportunity we get.” But they don’t give it to people hospitalized with COVID-19, who are generally told to wait three months after infection to get it.

Phillips is also urging people to get their boosters, especially if they’re at risk of serious illness or planning to spend time with someone who is. He said they’re seeing a lot more hospitalizations in people who aren’t vaccinated.

Deaths, like hospital admissions, are now increasing.

The ultimate concern is that more seniors will die. Overall death rates fell this past spring and summer as more people gained protection from vaccinations and previous infections. But the proportion of deaths related to COVID-19 for the oldest old — adults aged 85 and over, who make up 2% of the population — rose to 40%.

During the course of the pandemic, one in five COVID-19 deaths were among those in a long-term care facility.

dr Walid Michelen, chief medical officer for seven nonprofit nursing homes operated by the Archdiocese of New York, said Americans must continue to take the pandemic seriously.

“It will not go away. It’s here to stay,” he said. “We’re getting a new variant, and who knows how aggressive that variant will be? It keeps me up at night.”

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Associated Press writer Nicky Forster contributed from New York.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed, or redistributed.)

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Sarah Y. Kim

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