Society 01/02/2021

Every day an average of 19 people die in nursing homes

Daily deaths of residents increase by 30% and return to second-wave levels

3 min
Open Arms volunteers moving elderly people from homes.
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GironaThe deadly trail of covid continues to wreak havoc in care homes: this January, on average, 19 users have died every day. This number is higher than the average for December (14) and which is close to that reached during the second wave, in November, which was 20. If calculated by weeks, the mortality figures are also overwhelming: between 21 and 27 January, 163 residents passed away, which represents a 60% increase compared to the weekly data reported a month ago (100).

On the other hand, this week the number of cases has continued to decline: 436, less than half of those recorded between 7 and 13 January, just after Christmas, when there were over a thousand new infections in residences. However, almost twice as many tests were carried out on these dates: 37,000 PCR and tests, compared to about 20,000 made between 21 and 27 January. The difference is due to the fact that residents who went away with their families for the holidays had a PCR test before returning to their care homes

The Department of Health classifies the centres according to their epidemiological situation: the red residences have an uncontrolled outbreak, the orange ones have contagion but are in a stabilisation phase and the green ones are free of the virus. As of January 25 - the most recent Department data available - there were 112 red centres (11% of the total), 142 orange (13%) and the rest, 790 (76%), were green. These figures are higher than those reported on December 28, when there were 7% red and 12% orange care homes.

"Nursing homes are a breeding ground for the virus to spread". It is a sentence that the Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon, has uttered more than once. He justifies it basically by two factors: a large number of people living together and once the virus has entered very quickly spreads, since it is a closed space, where users and workers share rooms and services.

Caring for people from a distance

Many professionals working in homes have felt criminalised during the pandemic by the numbers of infections and deaths recorded in these centres. However, employers express their helplessness at not being able to keep the virus out. "Most outbreaks enter through workers, but they are people and have their private lives, take the subway and go to pick up the children from school. And once the virus is inside, it is very difficult for it not to spread, because users share many spaces, and workers go through different floors," says Vicente Botella, the president of Upimir employer association. His counterpart in Acra - the main employer association in the industry, Cinta Pascual, adds: "We cannot feed or shower residents keeping social distance, and there are many elderly people who cannot wear a mask because they would suffocate".

Panic over the British variant

The Health protocol states that when a case is detected in a centre, all residents and workers have to be tested and infected users have to be isolated. The centre also has to be sectorised, with the infected separated from the rest. But in small and medium-sized facilities it is very difficult to separate users properly and assign professionals to only work in one of the two areas. "And every time they ring the bell you have to dress and undress quickly; it's awful to work like that," admits Pascual. In this sense, the two employers also lament the lack of trained workers. "It is outrageous, most nurses and assistants have left because they have got calls from public hospitals and they go, because there they get paid 30% more. We do not have enough staff," laments Botella

The two managers fear the impact that the British variant may have - "We panic," says Pascual - but their hope is vaccination. Currently there are more than 50,000 users who have received the first dose, and about 25,000 already have immunity thanks to the second injection. In Catalonia there are about 64,000 people living in care homes.


In Catalonia, the figures of contagions can be consulted in two sources: Dadescovid and Aquas. Although the two databases come from the Department of Health, they do not match: since March, Dadescovid has registered 17,000 cases more than Aquas. Also, changes continue to appear in records that should be consolidated. For example, on Thursday, the number of deaths in care homes during December totalled 451; but 24 hours later, it was 444 (-7). And if you look at the detail of these figures, you can see that the 7 missing people were first registered in care homes and details such as sex, age and county were known, but on Friday they were listed as "unclassified" deaths. If you take the figures for the whole population, in Aquas there are 315 cases in this "unclassified" category, but in Dadescovid there are more than 8,000. ARA has repeatedly asked the Health Department about the mismatching data, but has not obtained any response.