Increasing COVID-19 outbreaks among California nursing home workers

California nursing homes are seeing thousands of new COVID-19 infections among health care workers each week.

The rapidly rising case count is raising concerns over the wellbeing of the most vulnerable, especially as the state allows caregivers who test positive and are asymptomatic to continue coming to work.

More than 10,100 nursing home workers are infected right now, with roughly 800 new cases tallied each day, according to state health data. Last year, on the same day, about 6,000 infections were reported averaging 370 new daily cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, nursing homes have been ground zero for COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. With the high transmissibility of the omicron variant, outbreaks have become more common, including in the Bay Area.

Andrea DuBrow’s mother, Gale DuBrow, has Alzheimer’s disease and lives at in The Reutlinger Community in Danville where routine visits are restricted following last week’s state health order.

Since early January, all visitors must be vaccinated, boosted and show proof of a recent negative test. That can be problematic since rapid antigen tests and testing appointments are limited.

"It’s scary when you can’t see your loved one who’s completely vulnerable," DuBrow said. "Don’t keep us out."

Unlike visitors, health care workers are only tested twice a week and many are not yet boosted.

CDC records show 95% of California nursing home workers are vaccinated. Of that, only 39% have reported getting a booster shot.

The California Association of Health Facilities, which represents providers, said it comes down to access.

"Facilities don’t have the ability to order vaccines for their staff," Director of Emergency Preparedness Jason Belden said. "They can order them for the residents, obviously, that’s their patients."

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last month that all health care workers are required to get boosted by February 1.

Despite that, Belden and other groups keeping an eye on the industry say without logistical help, many caregivers won’t meet the deadline.

"I think there’s going to be massive noncompliance with the booster mandate," Attorney Tony Chicotel with nonprofit California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform said. "I guarantee it."

He points to a lack of enforcement with vaccine requirements since last year and accuses the state of lax oversight or little verification of those requesting a medical or religious exemption.

In several cases, exemptions were granted with a doctor’s note or a handwritten letter, allowing some health care workers to remain unvaccinated and caring for the elderly or immunocompromised.

"The state’s just giving out these exemptions like candy," Chicotel said. "Anyone who wants one can get one. Anyone who wants to claim one can have one."

Chicotel found several facilities with extremely low vaccination rates, where close to only half the staff is considered fully vaccinated. He filed five formal complaints with the state begging for accountability and verification of exemptions.

In reviewing the most recent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data, KTVU found at least 335 California nursing homes that have less than 95% of workers vaccinated, including two dozen in the Bay Area.

But it comes at a time when nursing home staff is critical.

"I think we want to be supportive of all of our workers. We need every single person we can get – vaccinated or not, sadly," Belden said. "We don’t have enough people."

For families, it’s worrisome not knowing what’s going on inside a nursing home and struggling to see their loved ones.

"It’s super frustrating, it’s scary, it’s painful," DuBrow said. "You feel like there’s nothing you can do."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU