When the nation has passed through the COVID-19 pandemic, and assuming it can pass through the partisan fog emanating from both political poles to an objective post-crisis analysis, among the first questions should be, “Can we better protect people confined in senior care facilities?”
As The Daily News reported Saturday, 28 of the county’s 31 confirmed coronavirus deaths — 90.3 percent — were among residents of senior care facilities.
More than a third of those, 11, were in one facility in Texas City.
At least a third of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths — more than 28,000 — were among either nursing home residents or workers, The New York Times reported Monday.
Because there’s no standard reporting requirement about deaths in nursing homes, The Times was unable to separate deaths among residents from deaths among workers.
It was being scrupulous in reporting the toll as it did.
Both the local experience and what we’ve been told about the virus — that it’s far more deadly among the aged and infirm — argues most of those deaths were among residents.
There are several ways to look at this news.
One way, perhaps, is to be glad the toll hasn’t been even worse. It might be an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless, that people are in nursing homes because they are nearing the ends of their lives.
That’s blunt, maybe, but it’s a blunt fact that most of us will have to face sooner or later.
On the other hand, however, the long-term fallout from the pandemic was in part because of efforts to protect the most vulnerable people.
Although it often gets lost in the fog, there were two core reasons for imposing extraordinary restrictions on civic and commercial life in response to coronavirus.
One was to “flatten the curve,” which is statistical jargon that means to spread a set of numbers along a relatively longer horizontal axis; in this case, to spread the number of COVID-19 cases over a longer period of time to prevent a spike that would overwhelm health care services.
There was no expectation in that rationale of reducing the number of cases in general but to keep them all from happening at the same time.
The other justification for cutting the economy off at the knees was to protect the especially vulnerable, the old and infirm, who health officials from the beginning said would be the most likely to die.
There’s furious debate, of course, about whether we have flattened the curve. One telling fact is that the University of Texas Medical Branch, where there are more epidemiologists per square foot than about anywhere else on Earth, on April 24 began taking down tents it had erected to deal with an explosion of COVID-19 cases.
If those experts aren’t worried about a spiking bell curve, the rest of us needn’t be either.
So now with the economy in shambles, 36 million Americans unemployed, almost 15 percent of the workforce, we’re obliged to ask how well we fulfilled that second mission of protecting the vulnerable.
One place to begin looking for that answer is in what appears to be a vast difference of outcomes among different facilities. Some were hit hard, and some, at least apparently, not at all.
There should be detailed universal, standard reporting requirements about infections and death in senior care facilities.
We need to know whether elderly people living in long-term care facilities were better or worse off than those living at home. If they weren’t, we need to know why.
And the public, which is bearing and will bear the costs of government decisions meant to combat coronavirus, should have full access to that information.
• Michael A. Smith