Covid-19 Reporting in Senior Living Centers

Nursing Homes and Covid-19.               May 10, 2020

 This is the first of a series of articles regarding the Covid-19 crisis and the shameful response our government has made in the thousands of senior living settings across the nation.

For perspective, we need to remind ourselves of where the pandemic officially established itself in the United States.  It was a nursing home in Kirkland Washington on February 28th that the first case of Covid-19 was reported to officials.  Seventy plus days later we have over 80,000 dead, over one quarter of them residents of senior living settings.  Each article analyzes one aspect of the problem.  Reporting of seniors testing positive and dying from Covid-19; what those numbers show us; and how the government at all levels has bungled the response.

Reporting of Covid-19 cases and deaths

The importance of accurate reporting of cases and deaths caused by Covid-19 in senior living facilities cannot be underestimated.  NBC on May 8 reports: “According to a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll at least 19% of Americans are worried about” family members in senior living facilities.  Which means reporting on these facilities is of the utmost importance to over 60 million Americans.

Accurate numbers of confirmed cases of Covid-19 across the United States are extremely elusive.  On May 9, the New York Times reported that “at least 25,600 residents and workers have died” from Cocid-19 in long-term care facilities in the United States.  The figures on cases were reported to be more than 143,000 at over 7500 facilities.  Accepting these figures, we find that approximately 10% of the total cases across the country are in adult long-term care facilities, yet nearly a third of the deaths in the United States are from those facilities

What makes the figures reported suspect?

There are only six states which break out all the data regarding infection cases and deaths by facility.  New Jersey is among those states.  There are some additional states which report data on infections for each facility but not deaths.  The factor contributing the most to the lack of confidence in the data is that most states report cases and deaths in adult senior facilities in the aggregate, with no details related to specific facilities.  The federal government has ordered that the data be reported with more specifics, however, that regulation went into effect on May 8th and no figures are anticipated until late May at the earliest.  Three months after the initial nursing home case.  At the present rate of reported deaths across the United States the total could be well above 100,000 by the end of May.

Another factor contributing to the lack of confidence in the nursing home reports is that third parties are not involved in the collection or verification of the data.  Reports across the nation almost universally depend on the reports submitted by the nursing homes themselves.  Any attempts to verify the accuracy of the information is well beyond the capacity of nearly every governing body overseeing senior citizen residential facilities.

Finally, we do not know how many actual cases of Covid-19 exist in senior living facilities.  The lack of clear guidelines or availability of testing across the nation, despite Trump’s protestations, has resulted in an absence ofaccurate and reliable data.

Given the issues with reporting of Covid-19 cases and the fatalities resulting, it is clear that the numbers reported on a daily basis must be examined with a degree of skepticism.  The consequences resulting from the apparent inaccuracies of the data are extensive and will be addressed in the second article in this series.