With several months of data on the coronavirus now at our disposal, it can be conclusively stated that the elderly, particularly those over 75, are the most at risk of death from the pandemic. The news yesterday that 40% of the COVID-19 deaths in Los Angeles county occurred in long term care facilities (primarily nursing homes and assisted-living facilities) should shock no one. In Europe, the percentage of deaths in homes for the aged has been even higher.
And the elevated death rate from the virus is not restricted to long-term care facilities. The elderly who live at home, too, are at the highest risk of death from the virus of any demographic group in America. We knew a month ago that 4 out of 5 fatalities were from the group of Americans 65 and older, and yet, U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of the virus have been uniformly applied to all cohorts, regardless of age, as if all of these groups faced the same risk. They don’t, and they didn’t. We now know that the virus is spread easily but the risk of death is spread unevenly, and that the young face next to no chance of death.
America’s political leaders need to change strategies quickly. The elderly and their caregivers should be receiving urgent public attention, and federal, state and local governments should be talking about their needs above all others. Now that the data conclusively shows that the risk of death from the coronavirus is unevenly distributed across age groups, we should be focusing our efforts on how we can best protect our seniors and those who care for them, particularly in long-term care settings where nurses and their certified assistants risk contracting the illness.
The U.S. should launch a nationwide initiative with a mission to develop comprehensive strategies for addressing the plight of the elderly during this pandemic, and apply public resources accordingly. For starters, the government should consider providing financial incentives for front-line caregivers for the elderly. Members of the armed forces of America who risk their lives in battle receive “combat pay,” and caregivers at the bedside of our seniors deserve financial recognition for the risks they now courageously take. Who will be willing to do the traditionally low-paying home-health, rehabilitation and skilled nursing care jobs and risk getting infected, or infecting those they care for? The government is giving the unemployed an extra amount in monthly benefits. Why isn’t consideration being given to our nation’s paid caregivers and their needs?
The government should also fund the regular testing of long-term care facility workers and the proper screening of residents and visitors, as well as establish protocols to segregate those showing virus symptoms from contact with their fellow residents. There should be uniform standards that ensure such precautions are taken in a humane manner. The good news is that the great majority of elders who get the coronavirus recover from it.
Our government leaders, particularly our public health experts, can be thanked for their good faith efforts during March and April to save lives, protect our health systems from collapse, and take precautionary steps to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. It seems they did the best they could do with the information they had (and much that came out of China in February was badly compiled and ultimately misleading). American citizens who forfeited their liberties without protest and made many sacrifices, too, deserve credit. And our thoughts and prayers are with the 50,000 Americans who died from the virus, and their families who often were deprived of the right to accompany them in their last days. God bless them all.
A new month is upon us. The data now available to America’s leaders demands a massive adjustment in strategy, even if so many in the media will stubbornly resist such a change and seek to adhere to a narrative of COVID-19 that no longer is grounded in facts or science. The months ahead should place the needs of our elderly, disabled, immune-compromised, and those living in long-term care communities at the top of the national agenda, along with a sensible and swift re-opening of the economy before the damage deepens. So many of our elderly live on fixed incomes with limited savings. They will bear the brunt of the damage that the pandemic and economic downturn now occasion. Time is of the essence. They need our help now.