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Nursing homes remain a high COVID-19 risk

Availability of a vaccine against COVID-19 cannot come too quickly for residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. That may be the only hope some have of surviving the epidemic — because clearly, no one has come up with any other way of keeping them safe from the virus.

We have known for six months that older people are especially vulnerable to the disease. So — in most states — special efforts have been made to protect residents of nursing homes. Yet 55.3% of the COVID-19 deaths in Ohio have been at nursing homes. You have seen the numbers we regularly print and post on a near daily basis through information provided by the Columbiana County Health District. Yes, our area hasn’t been spared by the hardships inflicted from the virus.

As the epidemic proceeded, we learned more and more about the coronavirus. We have found ways to lessen the danger to most sectors of the population. But nursing homes and their at-risk residents have continued to be a deadly puzzle.

Some nursing home in Ohio have never recorded a single case of COVID-19. Many others have been successful for months in keeping the virus out, only to report multiple victims during just a few days.

Once inside a nursing home, COVID-19 goes on a rampage. Earlier this year, a nursing home in Woodsfield — in southern Ohio near Marietta –lost 17 residents to the disease.

One thing seems obvious: After weathering the storm for a few months, some nursing homes relaxed restrictions on visitors. That was understandable; personal contact with loved ones is important to both those being cared for and their relatives and friends.

But the suddenness with which a nursing home can go from safety to a deadly outbreak — despite numerous precautions — suggest it may be time to batten down the hatches again even where the danger appears to be minimal.

Meanwhile, local and state public health officials need to ensure that whatever resources that may help keep COVID-19 out of nursing homes are going to them. No stone should be left unturned in efforts to keep older people safe.

Otherwise, we will be holding funerals for hundreds more of them before a vaccine becomes available.

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