The COVID cycle is repeating again, writes Kimberly Marselas.
Kimberly Marselas

Seems like groundhogs all around the country missed their chance for some easy prognosticating when they returned to their dens last week.

Will there be six more weeks of hand-wringing when it comes to placing political blame for early COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes? How about some more foot-dragging when it comes to following preventative measures and rules established over the last two years?

Bury your head and stay cozy out there in Punxsutawney, Phil. We’re hitting repeat, again, on a show most of us tired of two winters ago. 

The last few days have been a doozy for the repeating COVID cycle.

In New York, a group of state Senators on Monday called on new state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett to review an early-pandemic directive that required nursing homes to admit COVID-positive residents.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R) said there is a “moral imperative” for Bassett to correct the mistakes of the past. But a report issued nearly a year ago by the state Attorney General’s Office already found the March 2020 directive may have led to additional COVID deaths in nursing homes. And the governor whose administration issued it left office in disgrace.

In addition to repeating previous endeavors, this action draws attention away from what lawmakers and health leaders should be doing together this time of year: crafting the health-spending portion of the state’s annual budget.

Providers in New York (and elsewhere) are still facing increased pandemic costs. Nursing homes, especially, are struggling with labor shortages. How to invest in care and protect patients moving forward is a much more pressing issue than investigating a policy that was long-ago retracted and called out very publicly for its tragic consequences.

In another here-we-go-again example, officials from 16 states — 14 of them already shot down by the Supreme Court — on Friday renewed their efforts to block a federal vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. Their claims are different, but their goal remains the same: to further delay a rule with the aim to save lives.

COVID circumstances have changed. Those mandate opponents are right about that. But there are strong odds, whether you follow the wisdom of groundhogs or not, that circumstances will continue to change with this virus. Six months from now, we could be facing a more dangerous variant, making the right to require healthcare worker vaccination even more imperative.

Speaking of bad situations none of us wants to repeat, let’s not forget the long-trodden on residents of Washington, D.C. That city’s non-voting Congressional representative this week pointed out that lawmakers have tried no less than seven times during the pandemic to strip her residents of their right to govern themselves.

The latest instance is a threat from 49 House and Senate Republicans who have vowed to vote against a provision to keep the federal government running unless it defunds the enforcement of vaccine mandates federally and in the nation’s capital.

“D.C.’s duly elected local government adopted the vaccine mandates, and no Member of Congress has the right to interfere in these policy decisions,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). She also outlined all the other ways lawmakers have targeted the city’s anti-COVID measures.

As all this finger-pointing and retribution continues, the virus also continues to limit access to care and underscore seniors’ vulnerabilities as the virus shifts to endemic status. 

Assigning blame and rehashing the COVID cycle won’t get real solutions to skilled nursing operators any faster. In fact, in many places, it’s delaying the kinds of collaborative discussions and innovations providers and patients most need.

For those on the frontlines, the question is, “Will the agony continue?”

Sadly, Punxsutawney Phil and my old Magic 8 Ball would almost certainly agree on this one: All signs point to yes.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.