Nursing homes accounted for 11% of the overall COVID cases in the U.S., but have borne 35% of the COVID deaths, the Times reported.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly in the U.S. in March, nursing homes were at the epicenter. Early on, Life Care Center in Washington state drew national attention for its outbreak, and by mid-April there were more than 40 COVID-related deaths among the home’s patients.
With the virus fast spreading in the Northeast and on the West Coast, some state officials were concerned about a possible lack of hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients. New York, New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania began mandating that nursing homes could not reject patients discharged from hospitals, who had the virus and were stable.
On March 25, New York instructed nursing homes that they could not deny new patients even if they carried a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reported.
This, said Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, helped “create an uncontrollable wildfire of infection and death” at nursing homes.
Camosy wrote a Sunday New York Times op-ed on the virus’ toll on nursing homes. He told CNA on Monday that the statistics were “awful,” but a sign of the times.
As nursing homes and long-term care facilities “were already pushed to the margins of our culture, it actually made sense that the dignity of these residents and workers was ignored and their lives discarded,” he said.
In some cases in New York, empty homes were transformed into COVID wards as with one former Catholic nursing home near Buffalo, which reopened as a recovery center for COVID patients.
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.
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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.