There should be a comprehensive and independent evaluation focusing on the actions Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration took — or did not take — to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in nursing and personal care homes.

The state’s own data, published by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, underscores the importance for independent, expert review, analysis and recommendations for moving forward:

— Since early March, there have been 19,154 confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19 among residents or staff in Pennsylvania nursing and personal care homes. The total represents 24.92 percent of all COVID-19 cases recorded in Pennsylvania since March 6.

— There have been 4,199 deaths among those who live or work in Pennsylvania nursing or personal care homes — 69.26 percent of all Pennsylvania residents who died as a result of the coronavirus.

On Monday, just over three months after COVID-19 first emerged in Pennsylvania, the Wolf administration ordered nursing home facilities to test all staff and residents one time before July 24.

“That’s really incredibly slow," said Charlene Harrington, a professor of sociology and nursing at the University of California San Francisco. “It’s dangerous because every day you delay testing, the residents are more vulnerable to getting the infection,” she told a reporter from Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by the Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and PennLive/Patriot News of Harrisburg.

For weeks, nursing home associations, public health experts, advocates and family members have been pushing for mandated widespread testing. They say the key is to identify asymptomatic residents and staff and prevent those who are infected but showing no symptoms from unknowingly spreading the virus to others, and in the case of nursing homes, the most vulnerable among us.

During a state Senate hearing last month, Mary Kay McMahon, president and CEO of a Lehigh County nursing home, testified that testing within nursing and personal care homes is essential.

“It’s mindboggling we are not prioritized for testing,” she told senators.

Last month, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced a “robust” and “universal” testing plan for long-term care facilities, an effort Gov. Wolf called “fairly radical.” But a closer examination by reporters at Spotlight PA found the plan has fallen far short of official claims. “As of early this month, only 75 facilities — or 12 percent of those reporting positive cases and just 4 percent of all long-term care homes in the state — had voluntarily completed widespread testing,” Spotlight PA reported Tuesday.

Pennsylvania’s elected officials should begin searching for a group of independent medical experts who have no ties to the commonwealth to conduct an evaluation of Pennsylvania’s actions and inactions during the COVID-19 outbreak. The conclusions and recommendations they reach will be crucial in efforts to implement more effective protections for our most vulnerable residents during this and future outbreaks of communicable diseases.

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