In New York, 5% of the seniors living in nursing homes have died from COVID-19. In Florida, the disease has claimed less than 0.6% of those in nursing homes. What explains the vast difference in death rates among this vulnerable population? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo panicked about COVID-19, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did not.
Over the weekend, Democrat Cuomo announced that nursing homes would no longer have to accept patients discharged from hospitals who were COVID-19 positive. Which leads to a question: Why in the world were they required to do so before?
The reason was that Cuomo was panicked about hospitals being overrun. So to clear beds, he told nursing homes that they had to take the elderly, whether or not they had COVID-19.
To be precise, the health department’s order read that nursing homes “are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
New York’s March 25 directive was immediately condemned by the American Health Care Association, the Society for Post-Acute Long-Term Care Medicine and the National Center for Assisted Living, who issued a joint statement calling it “a short-term and short-sighted solution that will only add to the surge in COVID-19 patients that require hospital care.”
New York wasn’t the only state to issue such orders. California did, but then quickly reversed itself. Pennsylvania did, too. More than 2,300 nursing home residents have died in the Keystone State — accounting for 70% of the its total deaths, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
New Jersey followed New York’s lead, with Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli issuing an edict on March 31, declaring that: “No patient/resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the post-acute care setting solely based on a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 … Post-acute care facilities are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized patient/resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.” (The underlining was in the original, which you can read here.)
Persichilli cited the “urgent need to expand hospital capacity” as the reason for the order.
To date, more than 10% of New Jersey’s nursing home residents have died of the disease, representing 53% of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths.
Now consider Florida.
Early on, Republican DeSantis came under harsh attack for not being panicked enough by the outbreak. The press ran headlines like:
- “Florida’s slow response: a ‘mini-Trump’ governor who borrowed the president’s playbook”
- “DeSantis gambles on less aggressive response to COVID-19, refuses statewide stay-at-home order”
- “Florida governor takes heat for state’s slow response to coronavirus crisis”
- “Critics hit Florida governor over lack of ‘sweeping’ coronavirus response”
The New York Times huffed on March 18 that “faced with the prospect of dealing a shattering blow to an $86 billion tourism industry, Gov. Ron DeSantis has moved more slowly than some other states to contain a pandemic that is spreading with alarming speed.”
Joe Biden joined the attack, blasting DeSantis for not taking “strong, urgent, and sweeping action.”
The Miami Herald, in an editorial, told DeSantis to “Act like you give a damn.”
What DeSantis did do, however, was better protect his state’s most vulnerable population. In March, the state started to randomly test staff and residents at nursing homes for the virus. In mid-April, he dispatched the National Guard to nursing homes to test residents and staff for the virus. It didn’t require nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a Fox News contributor, described how one nursing home handles the disease: Staff members are screened daily prior to entering the building; they are required to wear personal protection equipment; and patients who test positive for coronavirus are frequently transferred to a nearly medical center, where they stay until they are disease free.
“New York state had the opposite policy,” Siegel noted, “until Gov. Andrew Cuomo reversed course Sunday.”
Is it surprising then that more than 5,200 New Yorkers have died in nursing homes compared with only 423 in Florida?
Also of interest, the six states with the most nursing home deaths are all liberal or run by Democrats — New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Illinois. Had these states managed to keep their nursing home death rates at Florida’s 0.6%, there would have been 15,000 fewer COVID-19 deaths.
As Michael Fumento put it in these pages, panic in a pandemic is never a good policy. In this case, it was downright deadly.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board.