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Case Western Reserve University doctors awarded $2.3M grant to study COVID-19 in nursing homes

Research could eventually help reunite families
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Posted at 4:37 PM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 18:25:17-04

CLEVELAND — Every day, Theresa Carter wonders when she might be able to visit her mother who lives in a nursing home.

"It really is heartbreaking. It's been a rough couple of weeks,” said Carter.

The Northeast Ohio long-term care facility her mother is at is currently dealing with an uptick in coronavirus cases.

Carter last saw her mom a month ago.

"It was an outside visit," said Carter.

There's reason for Carter to worry. The latest statistics show 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been associated with nursing homes.

“It’s an even worse problem in Ohio than nationwide.” said Dr. David Canaday, Case Western Reserve University.

That number jumps to 54% in the Buckeye State, according to Canaday.

“You list off the risk factors of somebody that’s going to do poorly if they get COVID infected and the nursing homes just hit them one after the other,” said Canaday.

The National Institutes of Health wants so badly to learn how the virus moves through those facilities, the agency reached out to Case Western, offering a $2.3 million grant to try and answer questions surrounding coronavirus spread in assisted care facilities.

“Who gets it? How do they get it? What’s related to transmission,” said Canaday.

Dr. Mark Cameron is also part of the team at Case Western working to answer these questions.

"We have to learn more about who can fight the disease versus who can’t,” said Cameron.

Cameron, an infectious disease specialist, will do that by studying the blood of COVID positive patients in nursing homes.

“We are looking at how a person's genes are expressed in either sickness or in health," said Cameron.

By looking at patterns, they can find genes to target with brand new drugs -- basically creating personalized medicine.

“The concept here is brand new. This is a powerful technique,” said Cameron.

A technique that will tell doctors which patient is going to handle the virus well, who needs to go to the hospital and how nursing homes should respond.

“If there is a positive, how much do we really have to screen? How frequently do I have to screen? How many asymptomatic people are there or out there that we don’t even know about,” said Canady.

Armed with that information, and with the virus eventually under control, the hope is long-term care facilities can resume visitation.

"We will not find a way through this without research," said Carter.

Carter said she is grateful for the doctors who are dedicated to finding new treatment options, as well as those COVID positive patients participating in the study.

"That will allow us to get back there with our loved ones. I can't imagine not ever going back in to just have a visit and a cup of coffee with my mother," said Carter.

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