June 2, 2021

The United States Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a report on May 19, 2021 entitled “COVID-19 in Nursing Homes: Most Homes Had Multiple Outbreaks and Weeks of Sustained Transmission from May 2020 through January 2021” in which it reported that it found that nursing homes had an average of about three outbreaks during the review period (May 2020 through January 2021), with most of the nursing homes (94 percent, or 12,555 of the 13,380 nursing homes) experiencing more than one COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the 1.4 million elderly or disabled residents in the nation’s more than 15,000 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is responsible for ensuring that nursing homes nationwide meet federal quality standards.

GAO analyzed CDC data on COVID-19 reported by nursing homes each week of the review period from May 2020 through January 2021, the most recent data available at the time GAO conducted its review. Using CDC’s definition of an outbreak, GAO determined the number and duration of outbreaks each nursing home experienced during the review period. GAO included data from the 13,380 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified homes (88 percent of Medicare- and Medicaid-certified homes) that passed CDC and CMS quality checks each week of the review period—the most reliable data for calculating the number and duration of outbreaks. GAO also categorized the nursing homes into two groups based on the duration of their longest outbreak: 1) those nursing homes with outbreaks lasting less than 5 weeks and 2) those nursing homes with outbreaks lasting at least 5 weeks.

Of 13,380 nursing homes reviewed, 13,316 nursing homes had COVID-19 outbreaks and 64 nursing homes did not.

For each nursing home’s longest-lasting COVID-19 outbreak, GAO found that about 85 percent (11,311 nursing homes) had outbreaks lasting 5 or more weeks. Conversely, for about 15 percent of nursing homes (2,005 homes), the longest outbreak was shorter in duration, lasting between 1 and 4 weeks, with 267 of those homes able to control their outbreaks after the initial week. The average number of COVID-19 cases per outbreak for nursing homes with a long-duration outbreak was 56, while the average for nursing homes with a short-duration outbreak was 13. For both long- and short-duration outbreaks, over half of the nursing homes (66 percent, or 8,720 homes) reported that these outbreaks began with a staff member who tested positive the first week.

The GAO found that nursing homes with long-duration outbreaks were more likely to have a larger number of beds than homes with short-duration outbreaks. Specifically, nursing homes with less than 50 beds comprised 12 percent of all nursing homes in the GAO’s review, but made up a greater share of homes with short-duration outbreaks (28 percent) and a smaller share of homes with long-duration outbreaks (9 percent). The inverse was the case for nursing homes with 100 to 199 beds, as they made up 44 percent of homes in the GAO’s review overall but made up 27 percent of homes with short-duration outbreaks and 47 percent of homes with long-duration outbreaks.

The GAO did not see differences between the nursing homes with long- and short-duration outbreaks and their ownership profit status (i.e., for-profit, non-profit, or government).

In most states over three-quarters of nursing homes had long-duration outbreaks. Specifically, only eight states—Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington—had less than three-quarters of their homes with long-duration outbreaks and, therefore, had a higher combined percentage of short-duration outbreaks and homes without any outbreaks. Conversely, five states had 95 percent or more of their nursing homes that experienced long-duration outbreaks—Alabama, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Tennessee.


If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in the United States due to an infection acquired in a nursing home such as COVID-19, nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, or nursing home fraud, you should promptly contact a local nursing home claim attorney in your state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf, if appropriate.

Visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers (nursing home claim lawyers) in your U.S. state who may assist you with your nursing home claim, or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959.

Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.