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Reopening Our Nursing Homes

Relatives and friends of people who live in West Virginia’s 123 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will be allowed to resume visiting with them in person on June 17, Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday.

There will be limitations, Justice said, but the complete ban on visitors from outside is being lifted. It was ordered several weeks ago in order to safeguard elderly and infirm residents of the homes from COVID-19.

We cannot imagine the relief and yes, joy, with which many nursing home residents and their loved ones received the news. Wednesday was a wonderful day for them.

Justice’s decision was made in the context of knowledge that long-term care residents are the most vulnerable West Virginians, by far. Of the 85 Mountain State deaths from the coronavirus, 43 have occurred in nursing homes. Fifteen people perished at one in Jackson County. Fourteen lives were claimed at two homes in Kanawha County. Nine died at a facility in Wayne County and five more succumbed at a home in Monongalia County.

But the grim statistics should provide some sense of safety to West Virginians with loved ones in long-term care centers. COVID-19 fatalities were recorded in only five of the state’s 123 nursing homes. More than 100 of them did not even experience cases of the disease among residents or staff.

That says something about the quality of care at many Mountain State nursing homes, and about state efforts to safeguard residents.

Still, COVID-19 remains a threat. As of Wednesday, there still were 618 active cases of the disease in the state.

At the first sign of trouble in the form of new cases inside long-term care facilities, then, Justice should reverse his order. Better not to be able to see a loved one for another few weeks than to never see him or her again.

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