The COVID-19 pandemic has a long way to go. Even though rates of infection and death have dropped globally and nationally, the spread of coronavirus wasn’t stopped. Only a very effective vaccine or widespread immunity from having the infection will do that.
There surely will be some additional cases resulting from the end of statewide lockdowns and life resumed with adaptations to reduce contagion. And disease experts say the virus probably will return in the fall and winter, a potential second wave.
It’s still too early to make judgments about which of the widely varied approaches of states and nations to minimizing the harms of the pandemic is best. That will be difficult even looking back on the history of this unique era.
After six months, a solid understanding is lacking of the origins of the coronavirus and the best practices for treating the COVID-19 disease it causes. Only now have medical researchers determined that the virus is predominantly transmitted through close interpersonal interactions for extended periods. That’s why hotspots have included long-term-care facilities (which also host people at much higher risk), prisons and densely populated areas, such as New York City and eastern North Jersey.
While the experience and issues are fresh is a good time, however, to start thinking about what could be done differently and better next time. (Yes, there inevitably will be a next time, and if the next new pathogen has a slightly higher mortality rate, it will be much more challenging.)
New Jersey legislators are starting to analyze one of the worst pandemic outcomes in the state and nation — the devastation in long-term-care centers. The Assembly Committee on Aging and Senior Services this week reviewed recommendations from a consultant’s report on the subject and began talking about possible reforms.
They’re considering a single state operations center to work with facilities in an emergency, minimum staffing requirements and stronger regulatory oversight. They might increase Medicaid funding, which pays for half of nursing home patients and hasn’t been raised in years, especially if tied to quality of care and safety measures.
Legislators talked about and the consultant acknowledged one error regarding long-term-care centers — that New Jersey, like neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, in March ordered the centers to accept recovering COVID patients from hospitals. That freed up hospital beds, but required levels of infection control many centers couldn’t meet. Weeks later the order was reversed.
Such practices nationwide were part of inadequate pandemic policies for long-term-care centers, whose residents and staff account for at least 40% of U.S. COVID deaths. In New Jersey, they have been about half of deaths.
But as we said in March, officials in New Jersey and the rest of America had to make critical decisions without crucial information and adequate guidance from U.S. medical agencies.
Critiquing those decisions and the actions of governments, institutions and citizens is worthwhile only if it’s focused on learning from this pandemic and making improvements. There’s too much to be done to waste time and effort elsewhere.