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Provide Nursing Home Safeguards

Since not long after the COVID-19 epidemic began in the United States, we have been urging that protecting nursing home residents needs to be the overriding priority of local, state and federal officials. Yet the disease continues to invade long-term care facilities and kill vulnerable older people.

Here in West Virginia, nearly half the 325 deaths from the disease by the end of last week were people in nursing homes. That mirrors the experience in many other states.

And the virus continues to find ways into nursing homes that for six months managed to keep it out. Last week, a new outbreak was reported at a nursing home in Salem. Twenty-four residents and 22 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Seven people died.

Also last week, there was a ray of hope for nursing home residents and their loved ones. Good Shepherd Nursing Home of Wheeling announced it had received a federal grant of about $600,000 to battle COVID-19. As we reported, the money will be used for important preventive measures. The most costly, at about $415,000, is new air conditioning and air circulation equipment. It uses HEPA filters to keep COVID-19 out of air circulated through the nursing home — and ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses.

Six hundred thousand dollars seems a small price to pay to safeguard the approximately 200 people living at Good Shepherd. It works out to just $3,000 per person.

Every nursing home in West Virginia should be getting similar assistance. If federal funding is not available to make it happen, Gov. Jim Justice should use part of the state’s $1.25 billion allocation of epidemic relief money for the purpose.

What happened in Salem — a nursing home previously untouched by COVID-19 but suddenly besieged — will occur again in West Virginia.

Providing relatively few dollars in aid to help nursing homes install countermeasures could save scores or even hundreds of lives.

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