By Brett Arends
Are we for real? Do we even care about senior citizens in this country? Or do we somehow think growing old only happens to other people, so taking care of the elderly is someone else’s problem?
It has been an absolute disgrace the way so many of the residents of nursing homes were left at the mercy of the coronavirus, a disease that is much more dangerous to the elderly . And a stunning new report says that even as the pandemic surges again nationwide, we still haven’t fixed the problem.
“Amazingly, 20 percent of nursing homes reported they were completely out of one or types of PPE at some point from late May through late August,” reports Teresa Murray of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund and Jamie Friedman of the Frontier Group. “In addition, 46 percent of all nursing homes nationwide reported they didn’t have a one-week supply of at least one type of PPE at some point from May through August. A one-week supply is considered the minimum acceptable.”
And the situation is getting worse, not better. From mid-July through the end of August, the number of nursing homes reporting that there were completely out of masks, gowns and eye protection tripled. By the end of August, for example, 17% of nursing homes reported they had less than a one week’s supply of N95 masks.
And 8% said they had none at all.
In some states, including New Hampshire, Maine and New Mexico, barely half the nursing homes have a week’s supply of masks.
This isn’t hearsay. This is based on data that the nursing homes themselves reported to the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The analysis looked at data up to the end of August — before the second wave of the pandemic really got going.
Nursing homes are ground zero for coronavirus deaths.
They account for less than half a percent of the U.S. population—but so far have made up more than 25% of all COVID deaths. That’s more than 60,000 so far, according to the federal government.
And we’ve known all summer that a second wave was likely to come in the fall, as the weather cooled and America went back to work and school.
The country broke a new single-day record on Wednesday, with more than 80,000 new coronavirus cases reported.
Leaving nursing homes short of critical equipment as COVID-19 breaks out again would be like leaving airport and airplane security unchanged seven months after 9/11.
Our response to the coronavirus pandemic raises real questions about how much we really care about senior citizens. We have locked many away in isolation, arguably the cruelest thing you can do to human beings, especially the elderly. Meanwhile we are doing far less than we could to protect those who are most vulnerable.
The coronavirus is especially lethal among the elderly. For example, among confirmed coronavirus deaths in New York City, three quarters have been among people over-65 and half among those over 75.
(And nearly all, regardless of age, are among those with certain pre-existing conditions, including lung disease, asthma, heart disease, a weakened immune system, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and cancer.)
There is plenty of blame to go around. The authors of the report call for greater use of the Defense Protection Act to ramp up output of PPE, and for legislation to give the federal government, via the National Response Coordination Center and FEMA, more power to direct production and distribution of PPE.
Yet the federal government is also accused of making matters worse, for example by outbidding states for PPE or seizing supplies.
We rely on the private sector ordinarily to supply most of our urgent daily needs, from housing and heating to gasoline and food.
Not long ago one entrepreneur tried to respond to the crisis by spending $500,000 of his own money importing 200,000 needed masks from abroad and selling them here for $5 a piece.
The gross margin per mask, before time, labor, and other costs, was $2.50. Uncle Sam’s response? The Justice Department filed criminal charges against him for “gouging” and “hoarding,” noting that princely gross margin was “a markup of approximately 100%.”
Great for the headlines, of course. Not so much for those desperately needing extra masks.