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Testing must be done in nursing homes

Thousands of older Americans may have died needlessly because we, as a nation, did not heed an early wake-up call regarding COVID-19. It is not too late to save thousands of others.

On Feb. 26, two residents of the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, died of COVID-19. The coronavirus swept through the facility, claiming 37 lives at last report.

Reports from China already had made it clear that the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions were at most risk from the virus. Kirkland put an exclamation point on that.

Yet in New York, hit harder than any other state, nursing homes account for about one-quarter of the COVID-19 deaths, or about 5,600, according to Fox News. The Washington Post reports that the U.S. nationwide percentage is hard to determine but that the Kaiser Family Foundation says around 41% of COVID-19 deaths come from nursing homes, and that in some states it is as high as 80%. In Canada, 81% of the COVID-19 dearths have been from nursing homes, according to the Washington Post.

Why did nursing home and public health officials not erect more effective barriers against the virus?

New outbreaks at nursing homes are a virtually daily occurrence. At last, government officials are taking a more strategic approach to defense.

Now, New York is attempting comprehensive testing at adult care facilities. Each resident and staff member must now be tested twice a week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the plan may be “a pain in the neck” to some, but it is vital.

Cuomo has awoken to the hightened dangers in nursing homes after his state Department of Health previously told them they couldn’t refuse COVID-19 patients being transferred out of hospitals — an attempt to free up more hospital beds in case things got worse than that actually did. In hindsight, he realizes those patients could have been housed somewhere else where the spread wouldn’t have killed so many people.

Adirondack Health says it is now able to test everyone at its Mercy Living Center home in Tupper Lake twice a week because Saranac Lake’s Trudeau Institute started manufacturing the liquid used in test kits. This is great, but some nursing home executives worry about how the testing mandate can be completed.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Neil Heyman, who heads the Southern New York Association of nursing homes, told the Associated Press, but he and other nursing home organization leaders wrote to Cuomo that “there are a myriad of practical problems that will make it impossible to comply.”

But it may save thousands of lives.

Just find ways to get it done — everywhere.

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