Are we Failing our Seniors by not Providing COVID-19 Testing?

Laura Ahearn just released the following:


Nearly Half of Suffolk County COVID-19 Deaths Occurred at Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities 

– Transparency Will Bring Needed Resources –


“On Monday April 13th state health officials released the COVID-19 county-level death toll in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. The coronavirus has killed more than 2,722 people living in such facilities, or about 27% of all virus-related deaths (10,056) statewide as of that date.

According to state health officials, 252 people died at either a nursing home or an assisted living facility in Suffolk County as of Monday April 13th.  There were a reported 529 total deaths in Suffolk County as of that date which means that nearly half of all coronavirus deaths in Suffolk County (47.6%) were people living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Our most vulnerable population, our parents and grandparents, are being attacked by a vicious killer and the percentage of deaths in these facilities compared to hospital deaths is disproportionately increasing at an alarming rate.  In fact, according to the Governor’s reports, COVID deaths in hospitals and nursing homes on March 20th indicated that 1.4% of overall deaths were occurring in nursing homes but by April 13th that number jumped to 17.1%.

Patient advocates and families with loved ones in these facilities are asking the state to release the total number of deaths and positive cases for each facility across the state.  According to Elder Care advocates, disclosure of this information is a public health necessity to raise public awareness so that we can properly gauge the scope of the problem and direct the resources needed to stop the spread and to save lives.  Families of loved ones and folks living in these facilities themselves are desperately seeking expansive testing not only of residents but also of staff working there who come and go on a daily basis. If private companies can access testing tools it seems that nursing homes and assisted living facilities who care for our most vulnerable can and should too.

Vaccines are reportedly 12-18 months away, new medical treatments are being explored and discussions are beginning about how to build the bridge to reopen our lives and the economy.  Let’s not forget our seniors, one of our most vulnerable populations right now in nursing homes and assisted living facilities that need our immediate help. The very first step is to understand the scope of the problem which begins with releasing the total number of deaths and positive cases for each facility across the state so that policy and lawmakers can direct the appropriate resources to help our most vulnerable.”


Commentary (by D. Posnett MD):

  1. There is no reason for the absence of testing in nursing homes and senior assisted living comunities! Not when there is an ongoing out break in a home like Peconic Landing in Greenport. Not when I can get a test for myself. Not when local physicians in Suffolk are getting tests for their patients.  Yes, I know first hand, it is a pain in the neck and may involve hours on the phone or in line at a drive through.  But it is feasible.
  2. Why is it important to test  everyone at Peconic Landing? They are the largest job provider in Greenport.  Some 300-400 people work there and they go home every night to their families.  Regardless of whether they work in direct patient care or in the kitchen or on a maintenance crew, they are at risk of bringing the virus out of the facility and spreading it in the community.  I am worried about the elderly frail and susceptible residents at Peconic Landing, but I am also concerned about the entire community. Ultimately I am worried about the economic disaster that may follow.
  3. What would we do differently  if we had test results?  Workers that test positive would have to stay home under strict quarantine, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not (see below).  Residents that test negative would have to quarantine, but they might be able to leave the facility after 14 days if symptom free.  That is what occurred with passengers on the cruise ships. Workers who develop antibodies (a different kind of test) will likely be safe to return to work, as they may be immune.  Finally, we are heading towards massive tracking of positive cases as already done in other countries.  Tracking allows one to identify contacts that are in danger of getting the disease.  It is useful to start with the origin and in Greenport that would be Peconic Landing.
  4. For every symptomatic person, there are 7 asymptomatic people out there! Note a recent study that just appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.  They tested all women who came in to Labor and Delivery at New York Hospital (Weill Cornell).  Only 1.9% (4 patients) had symptoms of COVID-19 and all 4 tested positive by RT-PCR.  But 13.5% had NO symptoms and yet tested positive.  This means that a lot of people are infectious and spread the disease without even knowing it.   That is why EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE TESTED!
  5. In Florida, nursing homes are petitioning the Governor to be shielded from law suits! It sure looks like they are running scared.  Perhaps they should be, if they refuse to test when tests are available:
    Ron DeSantis Has No Power to Shield Florida Health Care Providers From Coronavirus Lawsuits
    The Florida governor is mulling an unconstitutional order that would protect negligent medical professionals. Read in Slate:

About D. Posnett MD

Emeritus Prof. of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College
This entry was posted in Coronavirus, Health Care, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Are we Failing our Seniors by not Providing COVID-19 Testing?

  1. Penny Quince says:

    excellent! I could not agree more.

  2. bcolbath42 says:

    This tragic travesty that is ravaging these senior centers represents the abject failure of government at every local level — especially at the Town and County level — those closest to the problem. Once the first infection was detected at Peconic Landing every resident should have been tested and then again on a periodic basis. That protocol should then have been followed at each senior residence. That our county and state lawmakers whiffed on this is inexcusable.

  3. Pingback: Frustrations Boil at Pace of Vaccinations at Long-Term Care Facilities | Resist and Replace

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