Other nursing homes in the state were devastated by the virus.
At a single health care center in Queens, New York, there have been 82 reported COVID deaths. Confirmed COVID deaths at nursing homes number 432 in Queens and 489 in Suffolk County; there were 484 "COVID presumed deaths" at Queens, and 227 in Suffolk, according to the state health department.
The situation for some homes grew dire so quickly that, by the beginning of April, the CEO of the Archdiocese of New York's health system ArchCare advised families of nursing home patients to take their loved ones home if possible.
A high-ranking ArchCare chaplain also told CNA there was a critical shortage of PPE in the nursing homes at the time, with staff being asked to use one face mask for a whole week and beyond rather than change the mask in between each patient, as normally advised.
Nursing home outbreaks in other states have also pushed up death tolls there. There were 45 deaths by mid-April at one Virginia nursing home. Carroll County in Maryland reported more than 50 COVID-related deaths at nursing homes by the end of April.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on Tuesday that 81% of the state's COVID-related deaths occurred at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities; state officials were still allowing infected COVID-19 patients to be discharged to nursing homes to free up more hospital beds.
In a one-week period in Connecticut, nearly 90% of the state's COVID-related deaths were nursing home patients.
In Florida, according to a National Review report, Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his administration's response to the pandemic. He said Florida focused attention from the start on vulnerable populations, especially the elderly, and barred symptomatic workers from entering nursing homes. Staff were required to wear PPE, and state inspectors visited homes to provide guidance.
Even with the precautions, however, 938 of the state's 2,052 coronavirus deaths--46%--have been patients or staff at long-term care facilities, according to statistics from the state's health department.
New York reversed its mandate this week, allowing nursing homes to refuse patients who contracted the virus. However, the damage has already been done, Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told CNA last Friday.
"I have some sympathy that, in the midst of the explosion, people were dealing with a true emergency," Smith said. Yet, he added, "one can't imagine the thinking that would go behind" the state's decision, "unless you thought that they didn't matter as much as other people."
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If an investigation into state policies uncovers "any hint of that" mentality, Smith said, there should be sanctions for "egregious and invidious discrimination."
One precaution that could have been taken before the pandemic-and must be considered in the future-is to help families plan for long-term care so they don't have to make drastic decisions for their loved ones during a public emergency, said Towey.
Towey is also the former director of the White House Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during the Bush administration, and served as the legal counsel for Mother Teresa for 12 years.
"In many cases," he said, there was "negligence" demonstrated by nursing home operators that led to the "premature death of many people." Proper safeguards were not in place to protect patients from the virus.
Yet when considering future policies to protect the elderly, Towey emphasized that they cannot be isolated indefinitely and "can't live in a world without hugs." Any policy must "address this disease of loneliness that's pervasive."
"I'm worried more about where we're headed with long-term care, and how we do this in a humane way, because the elderly need most of all to love and be loved," Towey said.