New York congresswoman wants COVID nursing home fatalities released to the public

AOC introduces bill to provide burial costs for COVID-19 victims
REUTERS/Monica Almeida

Elected officials are clamoring for coronavirus cases at nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide to be published, as nursing home deaths represent 25 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities in New York.

Last week, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined 77 of her House colleagues in sending a letter to the Trump administration asking them to work with states, localities and private labs to collect and publicly report data on the number of long-term care residents affected by the coronavirus, including cases and fatalities.

According to the New York State Department of Health, as of April 19, 3,448 people have died from COVID-19 at nursing homes and long term care facilities, including 556 in the Bronx. Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order requiring that the NYS DOH-licensed facility shall notify family members or next of kin for all residents if any resident tests positive for COVID-19, or if any resident suffers a COVID-19 related death, within 24 hours of such positive test result or death.

“Without understanding the scope and impact of the pandemic within long-term care facilities, the administration and the congress lack essential information to adequately respond and protect older Americans and individuals with disabilities who rely on these facilities to survive and are particularly at risk for COVID-19,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

The only federal data available is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s March 30 estimate that at least 400 long-term care facilities have COVID-19 cases. All information has come from journalists who are reporting at least 3,000 nursing home residents have died and that at least 2,300 facilities across over 37 states have cases. However, the actual numbers are likely higher.

In the letter, Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues emphasized the specific vulnerability of older Americans and individuals with disabilities living in long-term care facilities. They stressed that the CDC is failing to collect and publicly report data on the number of residents and long-term care facilities that have been affected by COVID-19. Without understanding the impact it has having on those places, the officials said that the government can’t adequately respond and protect older Americans and individuals with disabilities who rely on these facilities.

Before COVID-19, infections already caused as many as 3 million illnesses and almost 400,000 deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities each year.

“Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, has said that ‘people who are higher risk for severe disease and death are those who are older and with underlying health conditions,” the letter states. “Publicizing this vulnerability is necessary but not sufficient. It must be complemented by data collection around how COVID-19 is spreading in congregate communities where these individuals are heavily concentrated and where history suggests they are at particular risk.”

The letter closed by urging the government not to leave older Americans, individuals with disabilities, veterans and all those living in nursing homes behind in their coronavirus response.

“Our national attempts to slow, contain, and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus must not ignore older Americans, individuals with disabilities, veterans and all those living in nursing homes and congregate living settings,” the letter said. “We must not leave any person behind.”

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