Group homes for intellectually disabled adults have been hit hard by deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 (coronavirus). A recent investigation found over 680 deaths and thousands of infections.

What is the problem?

An estimated 275,000 adults with intellectual disabilities like autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy live in group homes and government-funded institutions called Intermediate Care Facilities.

Tragically, a growing number of group homes for disabled adults have been ravaged by deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 — and many of these facilities were cited in the past for failing to control infectious diseases.

Challenges of Controlling COVID-19 in Group Homes

Outbreaks of COVID-19 are especially challenging in group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The residents may have underlying medical conditions that increase their risk of life-threatening complications from COVID-19 infections. Furthermore, social distancing is impossible when residents live communally and share a room. Some residents also need frequent hands-on care.

Investigation Finds At Least 680 Deaths from COVID-19 in Group Homes

In June 2020, an investigation by the Associated Press found at least 680 deaths and more than 5,800 infections with COVID-19 at group homes for disabled adults — but because many states did not report data, including California and Texas, the actual number is much higher.

40% of Group Homes Were Cited for Failing to Control Infectious Diseases

From 2013 to 2019, around 40% of government-funded group homes were cited for failing to meet safety standards for preventing and controlling outbreaks of infectious diseases, according to the AP review of inspection reports for Intermediate Care Facilities.

These facilities were frequently cited for basic failures, such as:

  • Staff not washing their hands in-between caring for multiple residents
  • Staff re-using gloves and masks
  • Dirty conditions (soiled diapers and linens, bugs, body fluids and feces on surfaces, etc.)

Lack of Protective Equipment & Critical Medical Supplies

Discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities may extend to medical care. In past pandemics, disabled people have been less likely to receive access to critical medical supplies — especially when medical resources are limited. Many group homes also lack stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for employees.

What Is The Risk?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that many people with disabilities also have a higher risk of COVID-19 infection or severe illness due to underlying medical conditions.

Intellectually disabled adults may not be able to communicate when they are feeling sick. They may be unable to understand how to wash their hands, maintain social distancing, or cover their cough. This can make it extremely challenging to control outbreaks in group homes.

Symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea


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