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COVID cases are rising among unvaccinated nursing home staff

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Posted at 5:08 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 21:01:37-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — At the beginning of the pandemic, it was nursing home residents that were becoming sick at an alarming rate. But now that we have a vaccine, it's the staff members.

Weekly reports from the Tennessee Department of Health show 213 nursing home staff members in Tennessee actively have COVID-19. That includes four staff members testing positive at the Trevecca Center for Rehabilitation and Healing in Nashville, five staff cases at Signature Healthcare of Erin, six staff cases at NHC Healthcare in Lawrenceburg and five staff cases at The Hearth at Franklin. For a full list of facilities with cases, click here.

So why the uptick? "Hesitancy is everywhere, still," answered Dr. William Schaffner, an internationally renowned infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Schaffner says vaccine hesitancy seems to be just as contagious as the virus, even for healthcare workers. And the numbers prove it.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 81% of nursing home residents across the county have gotten the vaccine. Only 59% of staff have gotten vaccinated.

"I think all of us in the healthcare professions should be vaccinated against COVID on behalf of our patients. It’s a patient safety issue," said Dr. Schaffner.

He says families who have relatives in these facilities should encourage nursing homeowners to do what his employer did. Vanderbilt University Medical Center has now made it a requirement for all of its staff members to get vaccinated. "We want this to make as COVID-free zone once you get to the hospital, and I think that should extend to nursing home facilities, to clinics, to individual doctor offices," he said.

If nursing home staff members continue to get sick, Dr. Schaffner worries we'll see the painful images of nursing home evacuations once again. "Their immune systems may not respond optimally to the vaccine, so we probably don’t get 95 percent protection amongst the residents," said Schaffner. "That’s why the staff has to be vaccinated so they don’t bring the virus into the nursing home and have it spread there"

The Tennessee Department of Safety declined an on-camera interview with NewsChannel 5 Tuesday, but sent us the following statement:

Our focus since the beginning of the pandemic has been on vulnerable populations and that includes the frail and medically fragile elderly folks in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities. We encourage LTCF residents and staff to get a COVID-19 vaccine. You can find guidelines for families of long-term care facilities on our website under Congregate Care Settings at https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html [tn.gov].
Bill Christian -- TN Department of Health