About one in five homes reported a death but about 20 percent of nursing homes have not yet reported case counts.
At least 26,000 residents died and more than 60,000 were sickened as the novel coronavirus continued its unrelenting assault on America’s nursing homes, sweeping through facilities in every corner of the country.
The numbers, released late Monday, represent the first official national accounting of fatalities in the 15,000 nursing homes certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The tally, however, is incomplete. About 20 percent of the nation’s nursing homes did not report data to the federal government. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Monday said early analysis shows homes with a history of infection-control and other health deficiencies were more likely to have covid-19 outbreaks.
Early analysis shows that facilities with a one-star quality rating were more likely to have large numbers of COVID-19 cases than facilities with a five-star quality rating. CMS will take enforcement action against the nursing homes that have not reported data into the CDC as required under CMS participation requirements.
“Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”
COVID-19 has unleashed a dual threat to health equity in the United States: a pandemic that has sickened millions and killed tens of thousands and counting, and an economic downturn that has resulted in tens of millions of people losing jobs—the highest numbers since the Great Depression. The COVID pandemic underscores that:
Our health is inextricably linked to that of our neighbors, family members, child- and adult-care providers, co-workers, school teachers, delivery service people, grocery store clerks, factory workers, and first responders, among others;
Our current health care, public health, and economic systems do not adequately or equitably protect our well-being as a nation; and
Every community is experiencing harm, though certain groups are suffering disproportionately, including people of color, workers with low incomes, and people living in places that were already struggling financially before the economic downturn.
For communities and their residents to recover fully and fairly, state and local leaders should consider the following health equity principles in designing and implementing their responses. These principles are not a detailed public health guide for responding to the pandemic or reopening the economy, but rather a compass that continually points leaders toward an equitable and lasting recovery.
Pandemics and economic recessions exacerbate disparities that ultimately hurt us all. Therefore, state and local leaders cannot design equitable response and recovery strategies without monitoring COVID’s impacts among socially and economically marginalized groups.¹ Data disaggregation should follow best practices and extend not only to public health data on COVID cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities, but also to: measures of access to testing, treatment, personal protective equipment (PPE), and safe places to isolate when sick; receipt of social and economic supports; and the downstream consequences of COVID on well-being, ranging from housing instability to food insecurity.
Geographic identifiers would allow leaders and the public to understand the interplay between place and social factors, as counties with large black populations account for more than half of all COVID deaths, and rural communities and post-industrial cities generally fare worse in economic downturns. Legal mandates for data disaggregation are proliferating, but 11 states are still not reporting COVID deaths by race; 16 are not reporting by gender; and 26 are not reporting based on congregate living status (e.g., nursing homes, jails). Only three are reporting testing data by race and ethnicity.
While states and cities can do more, the federal government should also support data disaggregation through funding and national standards.
Our communities are stronger, more stable, and more prosperous when every person, including the most disadvantaged residents, is healthy and financially secure. Throughout the response and recovery, state and local leaders should ask: Are we making sure that people facing the greatest risks have access to PPE, testing and treatment, stable housing, and a way to support their families? And, are we creating ways for residents—particularly those hardest hit—to meaningfully participate in and shape the government’s recovery strategy?
Accordingly, policymakers should create space for leaders from these communities to be at decision-making tables and should regularly consult with community-based organizations that can identify barriers to accessing health and social services, lift up grassroots solutions, and disseminate public health guidance in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways. For example, they could recommend trusted, accessible locations for new testing sites and advise on how to diversify the pool of contact tracers, who will be crucial to tamping down the spread of infection in reopened communities. They could also collaborate with government leaders to ensure that all people who are infected with coronavirus (or exposed to someone infected) have a safe, secure, and acceptable place to isolate or quarantine for 14 days. Key partners could include community health centers, small business associations, community organizing groups, and workers’ rights organizations, among others. Ultimately, state and local leaders should measure the success of their response based not only on total death counts and aggregate economic impacts but also on the health and social outcomes of the most marginalized.
Race or ethnicity should not determine anyone’s opportunity for good health or social well-being, but, as COVID has shown, we are far from this goal. People of color are more likely to be front-line workers, to live in dense or overcrowded housing, to lack health insurance, and to experience chronic diseases linked to unhealthy environments and structural racism. Therefore, state and local leaders should empower dedicated teams to address COVID-related racial disparities, as several leaders, Republican and Democrat, have already done.
To be effective, these entities should: include leaders of color from community, corporate, academic, and philanthropic sectors; be integrated as key members of the broader public health and economic recovery efforts; and be accountable to the public. These teams should foster collaboration between state, local, and tribal governments to assist Native communities; anticipate and mitigate negative consequences of current response strategies, such as bias in enforcement of public health guidelines; address racial discrimination within the health care system; and ensure access to tailored mental health services for people of color and immigrants who are experiencing added trauma, stigma, and fear. Ultimately, resourcesmatter. State and local leaders must ensure that critical health and social supports are distributed fairly, proportionate to need, and free of undue restrictions to meet the needs of all groups, including black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous communities.
The Congressional response to COVID has been historic in its scope and speed, but significant gaps remain. Additional federal resources are needed for a broad range of health and social services, along with fiscal relief for states and communities facing historically large budget deficits due to COVID. Despite these challenges, state and local leaders must still find ways to take targeted policy actions. The following questions can help guide their response.
Who is left out?Inclusion of all populations will strengthen the public health response and lessen the pandemic’s economic fallout for all of society, but federal actions to date have not included all who have been severely harmed by the pandemic. As a result, many states and communities have sought to fill gaps in eviction protections and paid sick and caregiving leave. Others are extending support to undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families through public-private partnerships, faith-based charities, and community-led mutual aid systems. Vital health care providers, including safety net hospitals and Indian Health Service facilities, have also been disadvantaged and need targeted support.
Will protections last long enough?Many programs, such as expanded Medicaid funding, are tied to the federal declaration of a public health emergency, which will likely end before the economic crisis does. Other policies, like enhanced unemployment insurance and mortgage relief, are set to expire on arbitrary dates. And still others, such as stimulus checks, were one-time payments. Instead, policy extensions should be tied to the extent of COVID infection in a state or community (or its anticipated spread) and/or to broader economic measures such as unemployment. This is particularly important as communities will likely experience re-openings and closings over the next six to 12 months as COVID reemerges.
Have programs that meet urgent needs been fully and fairly implemented?Allexisting federal resources should be used in a time of great need. For example, additional states should adopt provisions that would allow families with school-age children to receive added Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and more communities need innovative solutions to provide meals to young children who relied on schools or child care providers for breakfast and lunch. States should also revise eligibility, enrollment, and recertification processes that deter Medicaid use by children, pregnant women, and lawfully residing immigrants.
Health, public health, and social infrastructure are critical for recovery and for our survival of the next pandemic, severe weather event, or economic downturn. A comprehensive public health system is the first line of defense for rural, tribal, and urban communities. While a sizable federal reinvestment in public health is needed, states and communities must also reverse steady cuts to the public health workforce and laboratory and data systems.
These principles can guide our nation toward an equitable response and recovery and help sow the seeds of long-term, transformative change. States and cities have begun imagining and, in some cases, advancingtoward this vision, putting a down payment on a fair and just future in which health equity is a reality. Returning to the ways things were is not an option.
President Trump said Friday the U.S. would halt its funding of the World Health Organization and pull out of the agency, accusing it of protecting China as the coronavirus pandemic took off. The move has alarmed health experts, who say the decision will undermine efforts to improve the health of people around the world.
In an address in the Rose Garden, Trump said the WHO had not made reforms that he said would have helped the global health agency stop the coronavirus from spreading around the world.
“We will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs,” Trump said. “The world needs answers from China on the virus.”
It’s not immediately clear whether the president can fully withdraw U.S. funding for the WHO without an act of Congress, which typically controls all federal government spending. Democratic lawmakers have argued that doing so would be illegal, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatened last month that such a move would be “swiftly challenged.”
The United States has provided roughly 15% of the WHO’s total funding over its current two-year budget period.
The WHO has repeatedly said it was committed to a review of its response, but after the pandemic had ebbed. Last month, Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also said the “postmortem” on the pandemic should wait until the emergency was over.
As the Trump administration’s response to pandemic has come under greater scrutiny, with testing problems and a lack of coordination in deploying necessary supplies, Trump has sought to cast further blame on China and the WHO for failing to snuff out the spread when the virus was centered in China.
During his remarks, Trump alleged, without evidence, that China pressured WHO to mislead the world about the virus. Experts say that if the U.S. leaves the WHO, the influence of China will only grow.
“The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government,” Trump said. “China’s coverup of the Wuhan virus allowed the disease to spread all over the world, instigating a global pandemic that has cost more than 100,000 American lives, and over a million lives worldwide.” (That last claim is not true; globally, there have been about 360,000 confirmed deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.)
When Trump earlier this month threatened to yank U.S. funding in a letter, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, would only say during a media briefing that the agency was reviewing it. But he and other officials stressed that the agency had a small budget — about $2.3 billion every year — relative to the impact the agency had and what it was expected to do.
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, said the U.S. funding provided the largest proportion of that program’s budget.
“So my concerns today are both for our program and … working on how we improve our funding base for WHO’s core budget,” Ryan said. “Replacing those life-saving funds for front-line health services to some of the most difficult places in the world — we’ll obviously have to work with other partners to ensure those funds can still flow. So this is going to have major implications for delivering essential health services to some of the most vulnerable people in the world and we trust that other donors will if necessary step in to fill that gap.”
Coronavirus has swept through a Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa, with 555 employees of 2,517 testing positive, fueling renewed concerns over safety measures at meatpacking plants.
On Wednesday, with suspicions the plant was the site of a new outbreak, Iowa’s Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said the state would only confirm outbreaks at businesses where 10% of employees test positive and only if the news media inquires about them specifically.
According to the Des Moines Register, cases in Buena Vista County more than doubled on Tuesday, and Reisetter is now confirming around 22% of the employees at the Storm Lake facility tested positive.
“We’ve determined confirming outbreaks at businesses is only necessary when the employment setting constitutes a high-risk environment for the potential of Covid-19 transmission,” Reisetter added.
On April 28, President Trump signed an executive order using the authority of the Defense Production Act to compel meat processing plants to remain open, but it hasn’t stopped facilities from shuttering to address low staffing and safety issues.
Tyson was previously forced to shut down its largest pork processing facility, located in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 22 following a number of coronavirus cases stemming from the plant, as well as worker absenteeism.
Other meatpacking facilities across the state have also been forced to address outbreaks, including plants owned by Smithfield Foods and JBS.
State lawmakers and mayors in Iowa have complained about not getting information about the ongoing situations at meatpacking facilities until it’s too late. Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said because Tyson isn’t based in the state, they don’t need to report numbers to them. Iowa Rep. Ras Smith criticized Governor Kim Reynolds and the Department of Health’s stance on the delays in reporting numbers.
Food processing facilities have been the site of numerous outbreaks around the country, with Trump pushing for them to remain open amid fears of food shortages. Earlier in May, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the largest meatpacking workers union, derided Trump’s executive order, saying that since its signing, “The administration has failed to take the urgent action needed to enact clear and enforceable safety standards at these meatpacking plants.” There are 18,524 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Iowa.
Nations fighting in World War I were reluctant to report their flu outbreaks.
“Spanish flu” has been used to describe the flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 and the name suggests the outbreak started in Spain. But the term is actually a misnomer and points to a key fact: nations involved in World War I didn’t accurately report their flu outbreaks.
Spain remained neutral throughout World War I and its press freely reported its flu cases, including when the Spanish king Alfonso XIII contracted it in the spring of 1918. This led to the misperception that the flu had originated or was at its worst in Spain.
Historians aren’t actually sure where the 1918 flu strain began, but the first recorded cases were at a U.S. Army camp in Kansas in March 1918. By the end of 1919, it had infected up to a third of the world’s population and killed some 50 million people. It was the worst flu pandemic in recorded history, and it was likely exacerbated by a combination of censorship, skepticism and denial among warring nations.
When the flu broke out in 1918, wartime press censorship was more entrenched in European countries because Europe had been fighting since 1914, while the United States had only entered the war in 1917. It’s hard to know the scope of this censorship, since the most effective way to cover something up is to not leave publicly-accessible records of its suppression. Discovering the impact of censorship is also complicated by the fact that when governments pass censorship laws, people often censor themselves out of fear of breaking the law.
Both newspapers and public officials claimed during the flu’s first wave in the spring and early summer of 1918 that it wasn’t a serious threat. The Illustrated London News wrote that the 1918 flu was “so mild as to show that the original virus is becoming attenuated by frequent transmission.” Sir Arthur Newsholme, chief medical officer of the British Local Government Board, suggested it was unpatriotic to be concerned with the flu rather than the war, Arnold says.
The flu’s second wave, which began in late summer and worsened that fall, was far deadlier. Even so, warring nations continued to try to hide it. In August, the interior minister of Italy—another Allied Power—denied reports of the flu’s spread. In September, British officials and newspaper barons suppressed news that the prime minister had caught the flu while on a morale-boosting trip to Manchester. Instead, the Manchester Guardian explained his extended stay in the city by claiming he’d caught a “severe chill” in a rainstorm.
Warring nations covered up the flu to protect morale among their own citizens and soldiers, but also because they didn’t want enemy nations to know they were suffering an outbreak. The flu devastated General Erich Ludendorff’s German troops so badly that he had to put off his last offensive. The general, whose empire fought for the Central Powers, was anxious to hide his troops’ flu outbreaks from the opposing Allied Powers.
“Ludendorff is famous for observing [flu outbreaks among soldiers] and saying, oh my god this is the end of the war,” Byerly says. “His soldiers are getting influenza and he doesn’t want anybody to know, because then the French could attack him.”
The Pandemic in the United States
The United States entered WWI as an Allied Power in April 1917. A little over a year later, it passed the 1918 Sedition Act, which made it a crime to say anything the government perceived as harming the country or the war effort. Again, it’s difficult to know the extent to which the government may have used this to silence reports of the flu, or the extent to which newspapers self-censored for fear of retribution. Whatever the motivation, some U.S. newspapers downplayed the risk of the flu or the extent of its spread.
In anticipation of Philadelphia’s “Liberty Loan March” in September, doctors tried to use the press to warn citizens that it was unsafe.Yet city newspaper editors refused to run articles or print doctors’ letters about their concerns. In addition to trying to warn the public through the press, doctors had also unsuccessfully tried to convince Philadelphia’s public health director to cancel the march.
The war bonds fundraiser drew several thousand people, creating the perfect place for the virus to spread. Over the next four weeks, the flu killed 12,191 people in Philadelphia.
Similarly, many U.S. military and government officials downplayed the flu or declined to implement health measures that would help slow its spread. Byerly says the Army’s medical department recognized the threat the flu posed to the troops and urged officials to stop troop transports, halt the draft and quarantine soldiers; but they faced resistance from the line command, the War Department and President Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson’s administration eventually responded to their pleas by suspending one draft and reducing the occupancy on troop ships by 15 percent, but other than that it didn’t take the extensive measures medical workers recommended. General Peyton March successfully convinced Wilson that the U.S. should not stop the transports, and as a result, soldiers continued to get sick. By the end of the year, about 45,000 U.S. Army soldiers had died from the flu.
The pandemic was so devastating among WWI nations that some historians have suggested the flu hastened the end of the war. The nations declared armistice on November 11 amid the pandemic’s worst wave.
In April 1919, the flu even disrupted the Paris Peace Conference when President Wilson came down with a debilitating case. As when the British prime minister had contracted the flu back in September, Wilson’s administration hid the news from the public. His personal doctor instead told the press the president had caught a cold from the Paris rain.
Ten nurse unions in Michigan are accusing McLaren Health Care of not being transparent about its finances and personal protective equipment supply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the health system said it has shared some of that information.
Many of the nurse unions have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that by not sharing information with front-line healthcare workers the Grand Blanc, Mich.-based health system is violating federal labor law, a media release from the Michigan Nurses Association states.
According to the association, each of its 10 unions received a letter from the health system May 15, in which the system refused to divulge how much funding it received in federal COVID-19 grants. The health system also has refused to provide details about its protective gear inventory, the unions allege.
“The fact that they won’t share basic financial information with those of us working on the front lines makes you wonder if they have something to hide,” said Christie Serniak, a nurse at McLaren Central Michigan hospital in Mount Pleasant and president of the Michigan Nurses Association affiliate.
But the health system maintains it has been transparent and has worked with labor unions and bargaining units across the system since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve openly shared information about our operations, the challenges of restrictions on elective procedures, our plans for managing influxes of patients and our supplies of personal protective equipment,” Shela Khan Monroe, vice president of labor and employment relations at McLaren Health Care told Becker’s Hospital Review.
Ms. Khan Monroe said that the information has been shared through weekly meetings, departmental meetings and several union negotiation sessions over the last two months.
The unions also say that the health system has not offered its workers hazard pay or COVID-19 paid leave that is on par with other systems. They say that only workers who test positive for COVID-19 can take additional paid time off.
In a written statement, McLaren disputed the union’s claims about employee leave, saying that employees “dealing with child care and other COVID-related family matters” can take time off to care for loved ones.
McLaren did not specify if this time off is paid. Becker’s has reached out for clarification and will update the article once more information is available.
“We have negotiations pending with several of the unions involved in the coalition, and while we are deeply disappointed in these recent tactics, we will continue to work towards productive outcomes for all concerned,” said Ms. Khan Monroe.
Recently, a coalition of unions urged McLaren Health Care executives to reduce their own salaries before laying off employees.
As states begin to reopen, employers need guidance to ensure safe, COVID-free operations, and are beginning to call local health systems for advice on how to manage this daunting task. Providing this support is uncharted territory for most systems, and they’re learning on the fly as they bring back shuttered outpatient services and surgery centers themselves. This week we convened leaders from across our Gist Healthcare membership to share ideas on how to assist employers in bringing businesses safely back online—and to discuss whether the pandemic might create broader opportunities for working with the employer community.
It’s no surprise some companies are hoping that providers can step in to test their full workforce, but as several systems shared, “Even if we thought that was the right plan, testing supplies and PPE are still too limited for us to deliver on it now.” Better to support businesses in creating comprehensive screening strategies (with some offering their own app-based solutions), coupled with a testing plan for symptomatic employees.
Health systems have been surprised by the hunger for information on COVID-19 among the business community. Hundreds of companies have registered for informational webinars, hosted by systems through their local chambers of commerce. They’re excited to receive distilled information on local COVID-19 impact and response. As one leader said, the system isn’t really creating new educational content, but rather summarizing and synthesizing CDC, state and local guidance.
Business leaders are looking for “a source of truth” from their local health system amid conflicting guidelines and media reports. Case in point: employers are asking about the need for antibody testing, having been approached by testing vendors and feeling pressure from employees. Guidance from system doctors provides a plain-spoken interpretation on testing utility (great for looking at a population, meaningless right now for an individual), and helps them make smarter decisions and educate their workforce.
Health systems are hopeful that helping employers through the coronavirus crisis will lay the foundation for longer-term partnerships with employers, allowing them to continue to provide benefits through lower cost, coordinated care and network options.
Timing is critical, and it may be smaller businesses that have the ability to change more quickly. Large companies have mostly locked in their benefits for 2021, whereas many mid-market businesses are looking for alternative options now.
Worksite health, telemedicine, and direct primary care arrangements are all on the table. One system surveyed local brokers and employers and found that 20 percent of mid-market employers are open to narrow-network partnerships. “The number seems low,” they reported, “but it’s up from five percent last year, a huge jump.” For systems seeking direct partnerships with employers, there’s a window of opportunity right now to find those businesses committed to continuing to offer benefits, who are looking for a creative, local alternative—and to get that first Zoom meeting on the calendar.