Background COVID-19 poses a major challenge to infection control in care homes. SARS-CoV-2 is readily transmitted between people in close contact and causes disproportionately severe disease in older people. Methods Data and SARS-CoV-2 samples were collected from patients in the East of England (EoE) between 26th February and 10th May 2020. Care home residents were identified using address search terms and Care Quality Commission registration information. Samples were sequenced at the University of Cambridge or the Wellcome Sanger Institute and viral clusters defined based on genomic and time differences between cases. Findings 7,406 SARS-CoV-2 positive samples from 6,600 patients were identified, of which 1,167 (18.2%) were residents from 337 care homes. 30/71 (42.3%) care home residents tested at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) died. Genomes were available for 700/1,167 (60%) residents from 292 care homes, and 409 distinct viral clusters were defined. We identified several probable transmissions between care home residents and healthcare workers (HCW). Interpretation Care home residents had a significant burden of COVID-19 infections and high mortality. Larger viral clusters were consistent with within-care home transmission, while multiple clusters per care home suggested independent acquisitions.