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Drastic measures were not taken soon enough

Elderly people with underlying medical conditions are most at risk of dying from COVID-19. They also are the men and women most likely to be residents of nursing homes.

Experience during the past couple of weeks has demonstrated that outbreaks in nursing homes can serve as beach heads for the coronavirus to spread throughout communities. In King County, Washington, the COVID-19 death toll stood at 136 as of Sunday.

King County became a bullseye for COVID-19 after an outbreak at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland. At last report, 35 residents and staff members there had succumbed to the virus.

Similar nursing home outbreaks have occurred in other states. That makes it clear that, both for the sake of those who live in such facilities and to forestall community-wide outbreaks, special attention needs to be given to nursing homes and assisted care centers.

Availability of testing kits to determine whether people have contracted COVID-19 remains a concern. There simply are not enough to serve basic public health needs.

An investigation of what happened at the Life Care Center indicates that nursing homes and assisted care facilities should be given top priority for test kits.

In general, testing has been limited to people who display symptoms of COVID-19. They include shortness of breath, respiratory problems and fatigue.

But we know that many people may be carrying and transmitting the virus without showing any symptoms. That is particularly true for younger people — such as elder-care facility staff members.

A report on the Washington nursing home indicates that once even a single case of COVID-19 surfaces, all those at an elder-care facility should assume a significant rate of infection exists. Special precautions such as isolating some patients and use of protective gear by staff are indicated.

To that we add this: If at all possible, nursing homes and assisted care facilities everywhere should be closed to the public — and everyone in them should be tested for COVID-19.

Lives were lost at the Life Care Center because drastic measures were not taken soon enough. Treating every elder-care facility as a COVID-19 hot zone could save lives.

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