By Associated Press
The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
WASHINGTON — At least a quarter of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States were among nursing home residents, a new report said, a disclosure that came as coronavirus restrictions eased Monday even as U.S. protests against police brutality sparked fears of new outbreaks.
The Florida Keys welcomed visitors for the first time in two months, the Colosseum opened its ancient doors in Rome, ferries restarted in Bangladesh and golfers played in Greece. But as tourist destinations worldwide reopened for business, new rules were in place to guard against the virus’ spread.
“Bring facial coverings, gloves, hand sanitizer, reef-safe sunscreen and personal essential medicines. If you’re feeling unwell, please stay home,” the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, which includes the tourist-dependent Keys, said on its website.
Electronic signs warned travelers to two of the world’s largest casinos about COVID-19 on the first day they partially reopened over Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s objections. “Avoid Large Crowds, Don’t Gamble With COVID,” flashed the signs near Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun as cars — many with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York license plates — passed by.
Meanwhile, the scope of the devastation in the nation’s nursing homes became clearer in a report prepared for U.S. governors that said nearly 26,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 — a number that is partial and likely to go higher.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 60,000 cases of coronavirus illness among nursing home residents, according to a copy of a letter addressed to the governors and an accompanying chart provided to The Associated Press.
The data was based on reports received from about 80% of the nation’s 15,400 nursing homes as of May 24. But some states with high rates of nursing home deaths appeared to have low levels of response to the survey, intended as a first step toward developing policy changes.
“This data, and anecdotal reports across the country, clearly show that nursing homes have been devastated by the virus,” wrote CDC Director Robert Redfield and CMS Administrator Seema Verma.
The U.S. has seen over 104,000 deaths and nearly 1.8 million infections in the pandemic, both count’s the highest in the world.
And although the first wave of the pandemic may be easing in much of the U.S., that doesn’t mean nursing homes are in any less danger: Experts say in a virus rebound they can again become the stage for tragic scenes of death and despair, as well as a risk for the broader community.
“What is going on in a nursing home can be a barometer for where the virus is,” said Tamara Konetzka, a research professor at the University of Chicago, who specializes in long-term care issues.
Roadblocks were taken down shortly after midnight near Key Largo, the northernmost island in the Florida chain, where almost half of all workers are employed by hotels, bars and other hospitality industries, and many of the rest are involved in commercial and sport fishing.
But even as the Keys reopened, Miami-Dade County kept its beaches closed because of protests in South Florida and across the country over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man pinned at the neck by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Richard Stanczyk, owner of Bud N’ Mary’s marina in Islamorada, said the 76-year-old business’ fishing boats have had virtually no customers for weeks and welcomed the reopening.
“There has been a real uptick in phone calls. There have been more charter bookings,” Stanczyk said. “We are encouraged. It’s going to come back.”