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EDITORIAL: Emerging virus numbers identify the truly vulnerable

America hit a somber milestone earlier this week and has now suffered more than 100,000 lost lives due to the coronavirus pandemic. As states move cautiously to reopen their economies in a nod to the realization that lockdowns cannot be maintained indefinitely, the question becomes how best to minimize the human toll going forward.

At the top of the list must be addressing and attacking the risks for the most vulnerable elderly, particularly those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The New York Times reported this month that one-third of those killed by this respiratory virus were residents of senior living communities. Others put the number even higher. A study by the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, which looked at 41 states, including Nevada, that report the location of COVID-19 deaths, found that “42 percent have occurred in nursing and residential care facilities,” Reason’s Eric Boehm reports.

And consider that statistics from some states, such as New York, the epicenter for the oubreak, don’t include ailing nursing home patients who were transferred to the hospital before they succumbed to the disease.

Nevada has done better than many states when it comes to minimizing deaths at senior facilities. But isolated outbreaks have been deadly. The Heights of Summerlin, a Las Vegas facility, has been the site of at least 24 deaths and more than 130 cases of coronavirus.

The 42 percent number aligns with global figures. Mr. Boehm notes that researchers at the International Long Term Care Policy Network looked at virus deaths across 18 countries and determined nearly 41 percent occurred in nursing homes.

“The fact that nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities,” writes Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, “means that the 99.4 percent of the country that doesn’t live in those places is roughly half as likely to die of the disease.” He continues:“Let that sink in: 42 percent of all COVID-19 deaths are taking place in facilities that house 0.62 percent of the U.S. population.”

This should have major significance for a number of looming decisions, particularly the reopening of schools.

Throughout this pandemic, governors and public health professionals have emphasized the importance of stretching virus deaths out over a longer period in order to spare hospitals and protect the health care system. That has come at great cost to seniors unable to escape the close quarters that characterize many nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As we move forward in this fight, it’s time to more aggressively focus on those who are most at risk in this pandemic while urging others to continue with common-sense precautions.

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