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US nursing homes ravaged by COVID-19 path

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-24 11:42

A woman places her gloved hands on a man who died of the COVID-19 in a nursing home, in Denver, Colorado, US, April 23, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the United States have had more than 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths, making them a hotbed for infections and prompting several states to take action to prevent more deaths.

"This happens to be a virus that attacks elderly people, and nursing homes are the place of the elderly people, so this is a very intense situation for nursing homes," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at his daily press briefing Thursday.

Besides New York state, deaths have occurred in Florida, New Jersey, Minnesota, Massachusetts, California and several other states.

The US has more than 866,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 49,000 deaths, many of them in nursing homes, as of Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

COVID-19 has ravaged at least 4,800 long-term care facilities nationwide, infecting 56,000 residents and staff, according to The Wall Street Journal.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) have launched an investigation of the homes to make sure they are following strict guidelines, including taking the temperatures of employees.

Other guidelines issued by NYSDOH and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include that staff must treat residents infected with the virus separately from those who don't have it.

If they cannot provide care for infected residents, they must transfer them to another facility. Homes also must notify a resident's family within 24 hours if the patient tested positive for the virus or died from COVID-19.

"If they don't (follow the rules), we will take appropriate action," Cuomo said. This could mean a fine or loss of their license, he said.

In Massachusetts and West Virginia, officials are attempting to ramp up testing for the coronavirus. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice issued an executive order that his health authorities and the National Guard must test every resident in the state's nursing homes, along with employees.

In Massachusetts, a National Guard testing program was tried but discontinued after problems with the test kits, the state's public-health department said.

In California, the healthcare industry is urging Governor Gavin Newsom to sign a directive to protect nursing homes, doctors and hospitals from lawsuits and prosecutions.

In March, New York enacted a similar law, the Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act.

It states: "Any healthcare facility or healthcare professional shall have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, for any harm or damages alleged" if care is in accordance with state rules and affected by "decisions or activities in response to or as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak".

A spokesman for the Minnesota state health department said Wednesday that 131 of the 179 total COVID-19 deaths were linked to long-term care facilities.

In Massachusetts, 55 percent of its 2,182 virus deaths were in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, including a veterans' nursing home in Holyoke where 55 residents died.

New Jersey's health department said Wednesday that 2,050 deaths were linked to these facilities.

New York said 2,690 residents at the state's nursing homes had died due to COVID-19. There are at least 6,475 infections in the facilities statewide (a quarter of the state's total cases as of Wednesday).

In Florida, 23 nursing-home residents died due to COVID-19 this week at Braden River Rehab Center and Riviera Palms Rehabilitation Center. The two facilities have 46 residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus, in addition to 54 employees.

California's state health department said last week that there have been 3,000 infections at nursing homes, and more than 30 percent of those who have died in Los Angeles County and 70 percent of the deaths in the city of Long Beach were nursing home residents.

Despite guidelines, some of the biggest outbreaks in nursing homes have occurred in New York and New Jersey, including 55 deaths at a nursing home in Brooklyn.

In Andover, New Jersey, earlier this month, police found 17 bodies packed into a tiny morgue at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation centers after an anonymous tip to police said a body was being stored in a shed.

"They were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring," Andover Police Chief Eric Danielson told The New York Times.

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