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Protection for nursing home patients, staff, now

Thousands of older Americans may have died needlessly because we as a nation did not heed an early wakeup call regarding COVID-19. It is not too late to save thousands of others.

On Feb. 26, two residents of the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, died of COVID-19. The coronavirus swept through the facility, claiming 37 lives at last report.

Reports from China already had made it clear that the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions were at most risk from the virus. Kirkland put an exclamation point on that.

Yet by Saturday, at least 28,100 residents and staff members at U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care centers had died of COVID-19, according to a New York Times database. That was nearly one-third of the total death count from the epidemic in this country.

Fully 7,700 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have recorded COVID-19 cases.

Why did nursing home and public health officials not erect more effective barriers against the virus?

New outbreaks at nursing homes are a virtually daily occurrence. At last, government officials are taking a more strategic approach to defense.

Among the first to act was West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice ordered earlier this month that every resident and staff member of every nursing home be tested for the disease. Beyond any reasonable doubt, that has saved and will save lives.

Now, New York is attempting the same sort of comprehensive testing at adult care facilities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo remarked that the plan may be “a pain in the neck” — but it is vital.

Meanwhile, some nursing home executives worry about how the testing can be completed. “It’s the right thing to do,” Neil Heyman, who heads the Southern New York Association of nursing homes, told The Associated Press. But he and other nursing home organization leaders wrote to Cuomo that, “there are a myriad of practical problems that will make it impossible to comply.”

No doubt there were practical problems in West Virginia, too.

But testing long-term care facility residents and staff members may save thousands of lives.

Just find ways to get it done — everywhere.

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