The federal government didn’t require nursing homes to report COVID-19 cases and deaths until May 24, 2020, more than three months after the first nursing home outbreak at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington. During the first reporting period, facilities were also given the option of whether to report retrospective data.
The Life Care Center of Kirkland, for example, didn’t report any COVID-19 cases or deaths in its first submission to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even though a CDC investigation a month earlier linked 81 cases and 23 deaths to the facility.
The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, is the pathogen that causes COVID-19.
While it’s still unknown how many nursing home facilities chose to not report retrospective CCP virus cases and deaths in the early months of the pandemic, the Harvard study arrived at an estimate by collecting case and death data from states that collected the information. Researchers then compared the state and federal data to estimate the likelihood of cases and deaths going unreported. The estimates were then used to come up with a cumulative number of cases and deaths across all nursing homes.
“To our knowledge, no previous study has used the available data sources in combination with the federal data to estimate national nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths. This study aims to fill that gap,” states the study, which was led by Karen Shen at the Department of Economics at Harvard University.
The study estimates that nearly 40 percent of nursing home COVID-19 cases and deaths were omitted nationally prior to May 24, 2020. The percentage of unreported deaths was particularly high in New York, Maryland, and Florida, according to the study, which examined death reporting samples from 19 states.
The study didn’t find any specific characteristics—such as region, ownership, or rating—among the facilities that didn’t retrospectively report CCP virus cases and deaths.
“This implies that facilities of all types omitted previous cases and deaths in the first NHSN [National Healthcare Safety Network] submission,” the study reads. “This may demonstrate a widespread inability of nursing homes to reliably collect data early in the pandemic or that pressures to report fewer cases and deaths were common to all facilities.”