THE MAP OF Covid-19 “HOT SPOTS” updated daily in The New York Times shows that Columbia County along with all the counties on the east side of the Hudson River between New York City and Rensselaer County to our north are “hotter”—more people testing positive for the novel coronavirus—than many counties elsewhere in the state.
But the rolling seven-day average of new cases has declined recently, which indicates transmission of the virus is, for now, slowing. And the trend is downward around the country, making it as hard as ever to determine what the figures might mean except that the illness remains with us.
That may help explain the short shelf-life of a news story last week that deaths from the virus at nursing homes in New York State “may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent.” The finding was released by state Attorney General Letitia James in a report by her office: Nursing Homes’ Response to Covid-19.
The attorney general said the figures on the “undercounted” deaths came from data published by the state Department of Health.
The report cites government guidance for requiring that Covid-19 patients be readmitted to nursing homes after hospital stays as a factor that may have put residents at increased risk. But the attorney general goes on to give an example of one nursing home that provided reports to the Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General that differed by 29 deaths.
The attorney general doesn’t say whether that “discrepancy” was meant to hide the nursing home’s death rate or was simply a result of the confusion that still lingers in the ways we respond to the pandemic. She plans to expand her investigation, which has already uncovered nursing homes that do not comply with infection control, low staffing that leads to higher fatality rates and other problems that may require urgent attention. At this point, none of the nursing homes have been named.
The investigation into whether this state effectively monitors the care and safety of nursing home residents must remain a priority for the attorney general. The pandemic is not over. Lives are at stake.
Untangling the questions about how and why the deaths at nursing homes were undercounted may lead to clearer rules and greater understanding of the consequences of inaccurate, incomplete reporting. But it may not uncover anything we don’t already know.
How come? Because both Dr. Howard Zucker, MD, the state commissioner of health, and Governor Cuomo insist that the total number of deaths has not changed.
This pandemic has posed its share of mysteries, starting with what triggered it and how long it will take to vanquish Covid-19. But for a couple of days it was the undercount rather than the poor care of some nursing homes that got the headlines. The undercount was treated as if bodies had gone missing. It became a political chattering point, not a path to justice.
It’s possible the undercounted number of nursing home deaths will reveal flawed judgment, fatal errors and, at worst, criminal conduct. But the headline isn’t yet the story.
IT TOOK 1,621 WORDS to say it but President Biden signed the Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing on his first day in office. You can find the full text at www.whitehouse.gov .
It requires anyone who is on federal property (buildings or land, owned or rented, temporarily or permanently) to wear a mask “when around others.”
It will include public transportation.
There are exceptions. It’s a work in progress.
Until most of the world’s population is vaccinated, we won’t be free of the threat from this virus.
Please wear a mask. Wear a double-mask if you can. Stay safe. Keep others safe too.