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Virus vaccinations offer hope to Iowa nursing homes

DES MOINES — Coronavirus vaccinations began this week in Iowa’s nursing homes and officials said Tuesday that, although it will take weeks to complete, the vaccination drive gives hope to the isolated residents that they can resume contact with their families.

Three pharmacy companies signed contracts with the government to go into nursing homes and give the vaccines to residents and staff. They began Monday.

In Iowa, there are about 31,000 residents and 37,000 staff members in 445 nursing homes and 258 assisted living facilities, said Brent Willett, CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, a trade group for nursing facilities, assisted living, residential care, senior living communities and home health agencies.

“This is the most significant development in the last year for nursing facility residents and families, without question,” Willett said. “It’s going to allow us to get back to a level of normality and most importantly a level of contact between families and residents that we’ve been missing for the last 10 months.”

It will take several weeks to administer the first dose and then it must be followed with a second booster, so the homes won’t be reopened to visitors immediately, he said.

Iowa nursing home residents make up about 1.5 percent of the state’s population but about 2.5 percent of all COVID-19 cases and 30 percent of the deaths. Current public health data shows 1,138 deaths occurred in nursing homes out of the state’s total 3,812 deaths as of Tuesday.

Iowa reported 67 additional coronavirus related deaths and 1,475 new cases on Tuesday. Hospitalizations rose to 620 and the number of patients in intensive care increased for the second day to 117.

Iowa also is allowing assisted living facilities adjoining nursing homes where residents live in their own apartments to receive vaccinations in this round of distribution. While assisted living facilities haven’t been hit as hard as nursing homes, the residents there have been mostly confined to their rooms for months, Willett said.

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