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Some Virginia nursing homes join the call for employee vaccine mandates

Westminster Canterbury in Richmond, which has nearly 900 elderly residents, was home to...
Westminster Canterbury in Richmond, which has nearly 900 elderly residents, was home to Virginia’s first known COVID-19 infection at an assisted living facility.(NBC12)
Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 12:45 PM EDT
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Amid growing concerns over the more infectious Delta variant, some of Virginia’s long-term care facilities are joining the push for employee vaccine mandates.

In a statement on Tuesday, LeadingAge Virginia, an association representing nonprofit aging services across the commonwealth, called on facilities to require immunization for all staff working in the long-term care industry. While the “vast majority” of residents have been vaccinated, according to CEO Melissa Andrews, only 69 percent of nursing home staff in Virginia have opted for the shots.

“The time for a mandate is now, especially with the rise in variants,” she said. “And where you’re seeing Delta spread, it’s hitting people with a vengeance.”

So far, Andrews said Virginia facilities seem to be avoiding significant new COVID-19 outbreaks. There have been virtually no new resident deaths throughout June and July, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases and deaths among staff have also declined nearly to zero since a surge that lasted throughout the late fall and winter.

But providers are nervously eyeing other states, where unvaccinated staff has been linked to a growing number of infections. The CDC is currently investigating one nursing home in Colorado, where 16 fully vaccinated residents contracted the disease and four died as many workers refused to be inoculated, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

Since Gov. Ralph Northam ended his emergency order on July 1, Virginia has stopped providing information on COVID-19 outbreaks in individual facilities. But available data from the Virginia Department of Health indicates that long-term care facilities account for 37 percent of the state’s total coronavirus deaths. Many of the state’s earliest — and deadliest — outbreaks were linked to employees who brought in the virus, often through asymptomatic infections.

“We know the vaccines are very effective, but our residents are also more vulnerable,” Andrews said. “So we feel there’s an ethical imperative to make sure everyone in a facility is fully protected.”

Nursing homes aren’t the only providers calling for vaccine mandates. After initially “encouraging” health care workers to get immunized, Virginia’s influential hospital lobby released a statement last week in favor of facility-level requirements. Andrews said LeadingAge issued its own statement, at least in part, to encourage similar policies across health care settings.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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