Association Between Nursing Home Crowding and COVID-19 Infection and Mortality in Ontario, Canada

JAMA Intern Med. 2021 Feb 1;181(2):229-236. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.6466.


Importance: Nursing home residents have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Prevention recommendations emphasize frequent testing of health care personnel and residents, but additional strategies are needed.

Objective: To develop a reproducible index of nursing home crowding and determine whether crowding was associated with COVID-19 cases and mortality in the first months of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Design, setting, and participants: This population-based retrospective cohort study included more than 78 000 residents across more than 600 nursing homes in Ontario, Canada, and was conducted from March 29 to May 20, 2020.

Exposures: The nursing home crowding index equaled the mean number of residents per bedroom and bathroom.

Main outcomes and measures: The cumulative incidence of COVID-19 cases confirmed by a validated nucleic acid amplification assay and mortality per 100 residents; the introduction of COVID-19 into a home (≥1 resident case) was a negative tracer.

Results: Of 623 homes in Ontario, we obtained complete information on 618 homes (99%) housing 78 607 residents (women, 54 160 [68.9%]; age ≥85 years, 42 919 [54.6%]). A total of 5218 residents (6.6%) developed COVID-19 infection, and 1452 (1.8%) died of COVID-19 infection as of May 20, 2020. COVID-19 infection was distributed unevenly across nursing homes; 4496 infections (86%) occurred in 63 homes (10%). The crowding index ranged across homes from 1.3 (mainly single-occupancy rooms) to 4.0 (exclusively quadruple occupancy rooms); 308 homes (50%) had a high crowding index (≥2). Incidence in high crowding index homes was 9.7% vs 4.5% in low crowding index homes (P < .001), while COVID-19 mortality was 2.7% vs 1.3%, respectively (P < .001). The likelihood of COVID-19 introduction did not differ (high = 31.3% vs low = 30.2%; P = .79). After adjustment for regional, nursing home, and resident covariates, the crowding index remained associated with an increased incidence of infection (relative risk [RR] = 1.73, 95% CI, 1.10-2.72) and mortality (RR, 1.69; 95% CI, 0.99-2.87). A propensity score analysis yielded similar conclusions for infection (RR, 2.09; 95% CI, 1.30-3.38) and mortality (RR, 1.83; 95% CI, 1.09-3.08). Simulations suggested that converting all 4-bed rooms to 2-bed rooms would have averted 998 COVID-19 cases (19.1%) and 263 deaths (18.1%).

Conclusions and relevance: In this cohort of Canadian nursing homes, crowding was common and crowded homes were more likely to experience larger and deadlier COVID-19 outbreaks.

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19 / mortality*
  • Crowding*
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Nursing Homes*
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2