Liza Berger

Nursing homes are in a tough spot.

The American Health Care Association said as much in a report it released this week. It found that the number of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes has exceeded the peak set on May 31, based on data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Sun Belt, the region that crosses the Southeast and Southwest, is the culprit, with 69% of nursing home deaths coming from this area.

This development was hardly a surprise. As states began to reopen in late April through June, the Sun Belt, which runs from California, Arizona and New Mexico in the West to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi in the Southeast, was the first to show a rise in COVID-19 cases. Now many of those states that thumbed their nose at the coronavirus are changing course, putting on the brakes or suspending their reopening plans.

Take Arizona, which began to rage with the virus after Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) stay-at-home order expired on May 15. Then, after forcing businesses to close, he allowed them to reopen before shuttering them again on July 23. Last week, the governor released guidelines for “paused businesses” to reopen.

Then there’s Florida, another recent COVID-19 problem child, which began opening businesses in May and then into June, despite rising cases. On June 26, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) moved to close bars after soaring case numbers. Variations on these moves are happening across the country.

Why is it necessary to offer these blow-by-blow moves by states? Because states’ approach to COVID-19 foretells what happens at nursing homes. It is well-proven that community spread is linked to rising counts in nursing homes. To further connect the dots, people who transmit the coronavirus in the community are inadvertently passing it to residents in nursing homes.

Knowing how effective mask wearing, handwashing and social distancing are, we can improve this situation. It requires taking this virus seriously. But, apparently, much of the country would prefer to pretend it didn’t exist. And to heck with our country’s elders.

Liza Berger is Senior Editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. Follow her at @LizaBerger19.