It's a grim fact: In many U.S. states, the bulk of coronavirus deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities, a new study finds.
By the end of May, the proportion of COVID-19 deaths in Massachusetts from nursing homes and group homes jumped from 54% to 63%, researchers report.
In other states, the proportion of deaths occurring in long-term care facilities is even higher. In Minnesota and Rhode Island, the figure rose to 81%. Meanwhile, proportions jumped to 71% in Connecticut and to 70% in New Hampshire. Among another 22 states studied, 50% of the COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care facilities.
But some states haven't reported COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, which means those deaths are underreported, the researchers noted.
"Once we get accurate counts of the COVID-19 deaths in all states, we will likely see a big increase in the total number of deaths in the United States," researcher Dr. Thomas Perls said in a Boston University news release. He is a professor of medicine at BU's School of Medicine.
Other countries are also reporting that most COVID-19 deaths are happening in long-term care facilities.
In Canada, for example, 82% of COVID-19 deaths were in long-term care facilities, and the World Health Organization said half of all COVID-19 deaths in Europe and the Baltics were in long-term care facilities.
But Hong Kong, New Zealand and South Korea are reporting very few COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities.
Long-term care facilities are a breeding ground for the virus, said researcher Dr. Lisa Caruso, an assistant professor of medicine at BU's School of Medicine.
"The asymptomatic spread of this virus allows it to easily sneak into these facilities where essential staff go from nursing home to nursing home, like X-ray technicians, phlebotomists, nurses and nursing assistants who have to work more than one job to make ends meet," she explained in the release.
"Checking temperatures of visitors and staff is obviously not enough," Caruso added. "Everyone visiting or working in a long-term care facility needs to either be found to have immunity to the virus or to be regularly tested."
The report was published June 5 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
For more on COVID-19, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.