Though the entire state has learned to take healthy precautions over the threat of COVID-19, the fear is especially acute at nursing homes. During the virus’ first wave in the spring, it was people in nursing homes who faced the greatest danger, and the death toll was disproportionately high at facilities around Connecticut and the nation.
State officials took action to protect people living at such facilities, but the effect too often was isolation, with little to no contact with the outside world. As difficult as it can be to face the threat of a devastating illness, going through that trauma without the help and support of loved ones only makes matters worse.
To tackle these problems and others, health officials and legislators announced they would form a panel to consider potential new legal requirements on staffing levels, testing and the way equipment is procured and distributed, among other pressing issues. These would be important steps even absent a pandemic, but are more vital than ever now.
According to state figures, some 64 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state have been in nursing homes. In addition to about 9,000 residents, thousands of staff members also contracted the virus, and several have died.
After spiking in the spring and then leveling off in the warmer weather, infections in nursing homes are on the rise again. As of this week, the state’s positivity rate had climbed to 4.1 percent, which was the highest one-day figure recorded since June. Even with regular testing at nursing homes, the danger level is heightened.
The panel will have a wide range of issues to consider, including staffing levels, the handling of infectious disease control, visitation policies, the procurement of personal protective equipment, facilities’ capital improvement plans and requirements for testing. All are necessary to secure the safety of residents and ensure that the tragedies of the spring are not repeated. The virus is not under control, despite the state’s efforts.
The panel’s membership will be wide-ranging, which should guarantee a healthy discussion on important issues. The state’s acting public health commissioner will co-chair the panel, and legislators from the Human Services, Public Health, Appropriations, Aging and Labor committees will also take part. Also serving will be industry officials, nursing home workers, union representatives, families with loved ones in nursing homes and others. Every stakeholder needs to be heard if the problems facing the industry are to be properly dealt with.
As summer turned to fall, much of the public’s attention about the coronavirus turned to schools and whether they could be safely reopened. In much of the state, that’s been able to happen. But it’s undeniable that the virus has a vastly different effect on the old vs. the young. Even as the public focus shifted, the danger at nursing homes has not eased.
So it’s important to see that the newly announced panel is allowed to complete its work. The Legislature must keep a close eye on whatever develops from its work, and consider carefully its recommendations when it comes back to work in the new year.