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

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com


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(9) comments

Bailey Jones

"Can we better protect people confined in senior care facilities?” It's not a question of can we, but will we? Good care costs good money. Several years ago while looking for an assisted living center to home our parents who could no longer care for themselves we discovered that "good care" cost upwards of $6K a month. That's beyond the budget of most Americans. Not much will change until caring for our elders becomes a national priority.

Walter Dannenmaier

I would say that in effect, caring for elders has been THE national priority the past two months. We have certainly traumatized, and possibly economically crippled for the long term the younger working generation to protect those most at risk of infection. There is nothing new about the reality that senior care facilities are holding pens for the elderly before death. How much of our economic effort should be spent on this? Was it a good idea to burden the young and ruin our economy for a few incremental years for folks who are on their way out? I guess it's a question of values. It seems to me the virus is doing what it's going to do. Barring a miracle, a certain number of people will contract it and succumb to its effects. What is not clear as yet is where is the end of the economic damage.

Chuck DiFalco

"We have certainly traumatized, and possibly economically crippled for the long term the younger working generation "

I agree completely with this statement.

Bailey Jones

Kind of makes $6K a month for decent elder care sound like a bargain.

Carlos Ponce

"Did we protect the most vulnerable as best we could?"

Dr. Robin Armstrong tested my brother who is in a nursing home. For that I am grateful. And my brother will be tested again according to the lady at the nursing home I talked to this past week..

The employees are tested, no outside visitors. All indications are they are trying to protect their residents.

Ted Gillis

Testing employees at nursing homes was not normal practice at the early stages of this pandemic and certainly is not the norm today.

Testing has to be done daily, and with immediate results, (like at the White House).

In fact the New York governor had to threaten nursing home operators in his state that their licenses would be suspended if they did not test. He’s making test kits available to them too.

I do wish your family members the best Carlos. This is scary stuff.

Carlos Ponce

Governor Cuomo of New York screwed up when he sent coronavirus patients into New York nursing homes infecting thousands more. At first he said he did not know they were being sent.


Then he ordered more sent to nursing homes.


“We have vacancies in nursing homes and facilities,’’ the governor said.

“A nursing home can only provide care for a patient who they believe they can provide adequate care for,’’ Cuomo said. “If they cannot provide adequate care for a patient, they must transfer that patient.”

"I made specific requests to transfer patients, and it didn’t happen,’’ [the head of the Cobble Hill Health Center, Donny] Tuchman told The Post. “There weren’t options.”

Charlotte O'rourke

“The skills that we need in order to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making.”

Did we protect the most vulnerable?

Of course not and the problems will continue unless our leaders develop critical thinking skills including reflection on how we can do better.

Understand confirmation bias and try to listen to other people’s opinions to overcome this impediment to critical thinking. Stop being moonbats and wingnuts and become Americans first,

Having friends with different opinions and backgrounds is a good thing and helps you understand different cultures, people, and ideas.

Major reflection items - 1). Does employer based insurance dependency with millions losing their jobs over a couple of month during this crisis need reexamination? 2). Should the US continue outsourcing manufacturing of drugs and PPE to foreign countries? 3). Saving for a rainy day instead of living pay check to pay check, and encouraging a spend it now for immediate gratification economy. 4). Were we ready for this pandemic - what did we do right, wrong? What countries did better? 5). Since government is not following CDC guidelines, what is government really doing to protect the most vulnerable and its workforce? Spell it out please instead of saying one thing, but doing another. 5). How can we protect older Americans when testing is still inadequate?

Stop blaming others and looking for ways to make it someone else’s fault. Rightly or wrongly the buck stops at the top. Start reflecting Mr. President, Mr. Governor, Mr. local and county leader - surely, something could have been done better, so implement that something. Give the unvarnished truth - it’s better than a lie.

Ted Gillis

You left them speechless Charlotte.

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