The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now says at least 31,782 residents of our nation's nursing homes have died from COVID-19. At least 95,515 residents have tested positive.
The new information was revealed Thursday with the launch of an online data portal to share information with the public.
"We were hearing from families across the country in this very difficult time where they're already separated from their loved ones, that they weren't getting information," said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in an interview with the News4 I-Team in May.
More than 15,000 nursing homes across the nation are now required to report the number of cases and deaths they've had among residents and staff, including residents previously treated for COVID-19. The homes will also be reporting on their personal protective equipment and hand hygiene supplies as well as ventilator capacity and staffing shortages.
"The first tranche of data is also going to be some of their historical data. What's been happening in the nursing home," said Verma.
Coronavirus Cases & Deaths in Long-Term Care Facilities
COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities in D.C. and Maryland.
But the News4 I-Team found the data does not necessarily offer a clear picture of what's been happening inside each home. A CMS memo in early May told nursing homes "there is no requirement in the rule to collect older data" meaning COVID-19 cases and deaths from March and April could be withheld, and only cases that occurred in May must be reported. CMS did encourage homes to report all of their cases to help with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveillance and response.
The I-Team found more than 60 homes in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have yet to report any data to the federal government. They will be getting a warning letter and could face escalating fines beginning at $1,000 a week for every week they fail to report updated data.
In Washington, D.C., 11 out of 18 nursing homes submitted information to the federal government, that's about 61%. They reported 57 deaths among residents and staff and a total of 472 confirmed cases. But the District's own website is far more comprehensive; it contains data from 17 of the nursing homes with 166 deaths and 858 cases reported.
In Maryland, 201 out of 226 nursing homes reported cases; that's about 89%. The homes reported 5,138 cases among residents and staff, with 885 deaths. Maryland's state website shows nearly double the number of cases and nearly 1,400 deaths, but those numbers also include assisted living and other group homes.
In Virginia, nearly 90% of nursing homes submitted data, which is significant because this will be the first opportunity for Virginians to see which facilities have had outbreaks. State leaders have refused to release the names of the facilities and their number of cases and deaths thus far, citing the facilities' privacy.
The Virginia nursing homes reported 2,216 confirmed cases among residents and staff, with nearly 500 deaths. The state has reported more than double that number of cases and 811 deaths, but those figures also include assisted living facilities, which are not required to report data to CMS.
Virginia has said it will continue to withhold the assisted living names, despite the federal release of the nursing home cases.
"We recognize that this is a state and local decision, especially when it comes to those assisted living facilities where we don't have jurisdiction over that," Verma said.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.