Frequent testing of all nursing and assisted-living home residents and staff, plus providing adequate funding to supply those residences with sufficient PPEs were the key recommendations made by geriatric healthcare experts at a Thursday morning U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing.

During the hearing — entitled Caring for Seniors Amid the COVID-19 Crisis — Sen. Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, focused his remarks on legislative proposals to help stop the spread of the virus in nursing homes. Those proposals included expanding the availability of home and community-based services and providing premium pay for essential workers on the front lines of the public health crisis.

"Nursing home residents make up .05 of the population," Casey said. "And yet people from nursing or long-term care facilities make up one-third of all COVID-19-related deaths. Still, to this day, we are trying to help those residents and workers with one hand tied behind our backs because the administration is not releasing data on outbreaks in these facilities. This is unconscionable."

Among those testifying at the hearing were Mark J. Mulligan, professor, department of medicine at Grossman School of Medicine, director of the Langone Vaccine Center, New York University, and Tamara Konetzka, professor of Health Services Research, University of Chicago.

Nursing homes compete with hospitals, Konetzka explained to the committee, "for both testing and PPE, which are still in short supply in many areas."

Konetzka and a team of researchers compared data from so-called five-star rated nursing homes to those not rated so highly. "A key finding," she said, "was a strong and consistent relationship between race and the probability of COVID-19 cases and death. Homes with the lowest percent of white residents were more than twice as likely to have cases or deaths as those with the highest percent of white residents."

Turning next to short-term measures dealing with problems at nursing homes, Konetza said, these facilities "need a direct influx of funding and technical assistance in order to achieve adequate numbers of staff, availability, and proper use of PPE, and regular and rapid testing of all nursing home residents and staff.

"Collecting data about cases and deaths is essential," she said. "Timely reporting enables resources to be directed to where they are most needed."

The coronavirus has "humbled physicians and scientists," Mulligan said. "There is so much we don't know about diagnosis, prevention and treatment."

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