COVID-19 is spreading quickly inside long-term care facilities in the Midwest and the Great Plains, bringing the number of nursing home outbreaks to a record high.
According to an NBC News analysis of federal data, more than 1,300 nursing homes across the U.S. reported having three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases during the first week of November, making it the highest number ever reported in a single week.
"It's an out-of-control fire. You stamp it out in one place, then it pops up somewhere else," said Bill Sweeney, senior vice president of government affairs at AARP.
As a result, Congress has passed more funding for testing, personal protective equipment, and staffing for the country's 15,000 nursing homes.
"We knew we were on borrowed time," said Andrew Banoff, president and CEO of a nursing home in Bridgeport, Connecticut. "But it was devastating when we all had to go in and call the families — not just of the residents that tested positive, but those exposed through staff. We had to make 84 phone calls."
Nursing homes across the country are reporting shortages of protective equipment and testing delays. According to the federal data, one in 10 facilities said they did not have a week's supply of N95 masks as of the first week of November. Meanwhile, almost a third of nursing homes had to wait three to seven days to receive COVID-19 test results.
Access to both protective equipment and testing is a concern to providers as it will become more difficult with the rising numbers of cases. Even though staff members are required to be tested monthly, weekly, or twice a week, nursing homes are still having difficulty gaining access to tests.
In July, the federal government wanted to have a 90-day supply of critical personal protective equipment on hand. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Strategic National Stockpile only had about half of the N95 masks and fewer than 1% of the gloves needed.
In addition to the limited supply of protective equipment, there are currently widespread staffing shortages.
"We're going to see more and more staffing shortfalls around the country as staff become sick and really unwilling to work in conditions where they don't feel protected. And they don't feel supported in terms of their pay or their benefits," said David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.