Once the grim tally of deaths from COVID-19 is finalized — sometime later this year, we hope — there is little doubt it will be clear that nursing homes are the coronavirus’ favored killing grounds. To most public health leaders, that already is obvious. In some states, most of the epidemic’s victims have been in long-term care facilities.
We know already that mistakes were made in how nursing home patients were handled. New York was a leading offender.
There, according to The Associated Press, more than 4,500 people recovering from COVID-19 after hospital stays were sent to nursing homes. How many new cases that resulted in can only be speculated, though the number must have been enormous.
It is for New Yorkers to determine whether alternatives were available. Some argue there was no alternative, in view of the state’s overtaxed hospitals and other health care facilities.
Some governors recognized the threat in time to save lives. Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump urged that staff members and residents in all nursing homes should be tested for COVID-19. As The Associated Press reports, at least half the states will not be able to accomplish that. Some “aren’t even bothering to try,” the AP noted.
Only a few states, including West Virginia and Rhode Island, had completed testing by Sunday. West Virginia stands out because its governor, Jim Justice, ordered testing of all nursing home residents and staff prior to the president’s recommendation. That probably saved lives.
COVID-19 seems to be winding down in many areas of the country. It remains a serious threat to older people, however. States where testing in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities has not been completed should redouble efforts to do so. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives could be saved.