The federal government hasn’t been releasing information about how many people in nursing homes have died from COVID-19 complications. However, the Associated Press has been keeping a running tally from state health departments and media reports.
Ten days ago, 450 people had died in nursing homes from COVID-19. The latest count on Monday by the AP found at least 3,323. Unfortunately, the toll is likely higher than that because only those deaths with a positive COVID-19 test are being counted. Those who die without a positive test aren’t being counted.
There are about a million people in U.S. nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
New York is the nation’s current epicenter for COVID-19 cases, and its state health department has declined to detail how many people have died in the outbreak, citing privacy concerns. According to the AP, however, New York has seen at least 1,880 nursing home deaths out of a resident population of about 96,000.
Staffing shortages continue to put residents at risk
We’ve all heard that there have been shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gowns and gloves. There also continue to be shortages in COVID-19 tests. However, experts say that the crisis has exacerbated chronic staffing shortages.
Deaths continue to rise despite social distancing measures
The AP also found that deaths in nursing homes have continued to rise even though the federal government put safeguards into place in mid-March. Those included requirements to ban visitors, refrain from group activities and screen all workers at every shift for fever or respiratory symptoms.
The reason for the increase in deaths may be asymptomatic or lightly symptomatic carriers of the virus who don’t realize they have it. The screenings put in place by the government have been unable to detect asymptomatic virus carriers.
Nursing homes need to be top priority for testing
As Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response leader, says that nursing homes need to be top priority when more COVID-19 tests become available.
“We need to really ensure that nursing homes have sentinel surveillance. And what do I mean by that? That we’re actively testing in nursing homes, both the residents and the workers, at all times,” she said.
This is a crisis situation, and there are problems that nursing homes cannot solve on their own. The lack of access to testing supplies and PPE are nationwide, or even worldwide issues. However, nursing homes are required by law to maintain reasonably safe conditions for residents — even in a crisis.
If your loved one has developed COVID-19 symptoms, it is possible that their facility has been negligent in responding to the pandemic. Discuss your situation with an experienced attorney.