New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, both of them Democrats, have come under fire for their orders forcing nursing homes to accept or keep patients who were known or suspected of having the Wuhan Virus. Doing that turned them into modern day Typhoid Marys who communicated the virus to others and the death toll rose as a result. So many died that the New York Times estimates one-third of all Wuhan Virus deaths nationwide were nursing home residents.
The situation presents us with a paradox where we are criticizing governors for sending elderly patients back and communicating the virus with the result of more people dying yet nursing homes are the places where we put our elderly and infirm so they can be cared for as we wait for them to die.
Death is not an unusual event in a nursing home, it is the norm and it is common to see residents dying quickly from infections that your immune system might fight-off so easily that you don’t notice it, or maybe you have symptoms for a few days. It is common to see residents in rooms near each other dying in a cluster. So why are we getting upset by the high death rates in nursing facilities? Their deaths seemed premature. They were victims of the pandemic.
The CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality reports show us that the elderly are the great majority of those dying from the Wuhan Virus. Sooner or later the elderly all die. Having them die sooner instead of later doesn’t make their death more tragic, it just gives us a point on which to focus our anger.
Three primary factors appear to have combined to contribute to the hastened demise of our elderly.
Factor One is patients suffering from lifestyle-induced disease conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, kidney disease, cancer, etc.). The virus has demonstrated a particular ability to exploit the weakness those conditions cause to overwhelm the body’s defenses. According to the CDC more than 96% of patients dying in-hospital suffered from one or more of those underlying conditions.
Factor Two is population density. New York City and the surrounding area became America’s “hot spot” for the disease simply because there are so many people packed into the same area. Each time you double the number of people in an area the probability of a disease being communicated adds at least one to the exponent on your multiplier. Population density helps explain why there have been outbreaks in other cities and at places like meat processing plants where people are working in close proximity yet outbreaks have been limited in cities like Los Angeles where there are fewer people per square mile. While this is generally consistent anyone looking at the granular data will see that the death rate in Manhattan lagged behind Brooklyn and Queens even though the population density was higher. The reason for the higher death rates in those boroughs appears to be concentrations of the elderly in identifiable communities that tend to be dominated by one particular ethnicity such as Jewish, Italian, Hispanic, etc.
Factor Three is living indoors where studies have shown your chances of being exposed to possible infection can be as much as 18 times higher than if you step outside into the sunlight. One of the critical design elements in the temporary hospitals built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in places like the Javits Center in Manhattan was creating “negative air pressure” where the flow of air carried what they exhaled away while minimizing exposure to the people caring for them. That air was then pumped through air purifiers where viruses and bacteria were killed by exposure to intense ultraviolet light before the air was pumped back into the larger facility. Such air purification systems are required in new hospital construction in many states but are unlikely to be present in nursing homes.
The decision to send infected elderly patients back to the nursing homes was somewhere along a spectrum line with utter incompetence at one end, gross stupidity in the middle and callous disregard for life at the other end. Some may want to put criminally negligent homicide to the far end of the spectrum but it seems unlikely anyone would be prosecuted.
Perhaps the greatest irony of the whole situation is how public officials and Democrats, in particular, have declared that the virus crisis demanded we do everything we could to save even one life while the results reveal their failure to practice what they were preaching. Ultimately it will be the voters of the two states who pass judgement on the governors for the results of their decisions.
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