James M. Berklan

Of all the issues concerning the carnage of the coronavirus pandemic, there is one thing that everybody — young and old, Democrats and Republicans, science believers and non-believers — can agree on.

COVID-19 has wreaked the most havoc on the nursing home population and its struggling corps of caregivers. Approximately 40% of COVID-19 deaths have been associated with nursing homes. This is largely consistent in various countries around the world.

In the U.S. alone it’s meant more than 50,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of detected infections. (The undetected numbers likely make it much higher.) Nobody’s really sure about any of the totals because of differing data collection methods. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not asked for numbers before the pandemic was in full rage this spring, but some operators have reported them anyway. There’s also the ongoing controversy about properly attributing hospital deaths that happen to people who had just come from a nursing home.

So while that part of the equation has not involved definitive math, the implications are nonetheless clear.

Even more basic, we have all known for many months that  the first discovered U.S. outbreak was at a Washington state nursing home. That was back at the end of February, nearly six months ago. SIX MONTHS. 

And the struggle continues to be taken seriously enough to get adequate COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment to the caregivers and protectors of the nation’s most vulnerable and frail population. Sure, the wealthier and best connected providers have done better than others in this regard. But nobody would classify the situation — did I mention that we’re SIX months into this mess? — as good.

Well, fret no more. I’ve figured out how to get plenty of testing to take place at nursing homes. The federal government may have wished for more testing of residents and workers, but my plan has full blueprints.

Simply put every resident on the team. That’s right. List them on the football game day roster. Add the staff as coaches to cover them too

While two of college football’s so-called Big Five conferences have decided to delay their seasons from the fall to next spring, three have not. Teams in those three leagues are practicing now and plan to play 10 or more games.

Take the Big 12, for instance, which includes members such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State. To keep its student-athletes (who mostly range in age from 18 to 22) safe, they’ll be tested three times a week for COVID-19. Three times a week. 

That’s three times more than the White House has requested for nursing home residents and workers, in what is one of the most fantastical implied-yet-unfunded mandates ever to come at nursing homes.

It can be assumed that members of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) will be undertaking similar, if not the same, measures for their football players. 

It’s all for the good of the lads throwing balls and blocks and bashing heads on Saturday afternoons, of course. It’s also to feed the nation’s hunger to be entertained by such endeavors. Can’t say we saw this coming. No, wait, we actually did.

Back-of-the-napkin math says that at least several thousand athletes, involving tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of tests, kits, supplies and accompanying lab time will be devoted to the effort.

So the answer is clear, providers: Stop looking to Washington for a firm, comprehensive and coordinated plan to lead you out of this deadly cycle.

Start sizing up Grandma and Grandpa for shoulder pads and helmets now. And if someone wants to be really nice, give them their choice of uniform numbers too.

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.