Officials say nearly a quarter of all US COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes

Riots and chaos may have stolen the spotlight in recent days, but the coronavirus crisis is far from over and the devastating effects of poor crisis management are just now being exposed.

Federal officials confirmed on Monday — to little fanfare — that the death toll from COVID-19 among US nursing homes has totaled nearly 26,000 — and that’s just in the month of May, when nursing homes were required to submit data to federal watchdogs. 

The US’s cumulative coronavirus death toll reached 107,000 on Tuesday.

It’s finally confirmed

According to the Hill, “states reported more than 60,000 cases of the coronavirus among nursing home residents, and the numbers are likely higher.” In addition to those staggering numbers, new data also shows that nursing home staffers were disproportionately affected by the virus, with more than 34,000 COVID-19 infections reported among nursing home staff and 449 deaths over the course of the pandemic.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma wrote in a letter to state governors that “this data, and anecdotal reports across the country, clearly show that nursing homes have been devastated by the virus.”

According to the report, the death toll and caseload is likely much higher, as nursing homes were only required to report cases and deaths from the month of May. The pandemic began ramping up in the US in mid-March.

Additionally, the data collected by CMS only tallies the devastation in Medicare and Medicaid nursing homes and does not include data from assisted living facilities in the US.

Holding leadership accountable

Public Health officials and infectious disease experts knew by January that COVID-19 disproportionately affects and endangers older adults — Long before the virus took hold in the US.

Despite the well-known fact that elderly individuals were the ones most in need of protection against the virus, several Democrat governors ordered nursing homes in their states to accept COVID-19 patients in service of keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed by an influx of patients.

New Jersey was — and still is — one of the biggest COVID-19 hotspots in the nation, but Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy still ordered nursing homes in the state to accept COVID-19 patients. “No patient/resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the post-acute care setting solely based on a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19,” read the March 31 New Jersey Department of Health Directive.

As of May 17, 53 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths had occurred within nursing homes. Data is incomplete and spotty due to a lack of transparency both within the state government and nursing homes themselves.

Murphy isn’t the only governor to specifically require nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients. NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) issued a nearly identical order to Murphy’s just days earlier, unleashing havoc on the state’s elder care facilities for almost six weeks before finally reversing the order.

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