Of all the instances of authorities failing the people during the Coronavirus crisis, one of the most egregious, certainly in the developed world (the behaviour of the Chinese communist authorities in the early stages of the pandemic will remain in a league of its own), is the New York State government’s decision to force the nursing homes to receive and care for the elderly regardless of their COVID status. The diktat to that effect that the state Commissioner of Health, Dr Howard A Zucker, made on March 25, is a decision that should live in infamy in the history of public health and governance in America. It is also a decision that should hang like a millstone around the neck of the media darling, Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Sending the elderly infected with COVID to facilities where it’s impossible to prevent the infection from spreading to other residents who, of all the population, are the most vulnerable to the virus – and are well known to be the most vulnerable – is analogous to the settlers giving infected blankets to Native Americans, or indeed to the Mongol besiegers catapulting their own bubonic infected dead into the city of Kaffa in the Crimea in order to force its surrender, which brought the Black Death into Europe with the catastrophic consequences we know from history. Surely while neither Zucker nor Cuomo wanted to exterminate their state’s senior population, what exactly were they and other officials thinking when making this decision? What did they think would likely happen if you introduce the infected into the closed quarters inhabited by those most susceptible to catch – and to die from – the virus? How grossly does one have to disregard the lives and well-being of fellow human beings in order to carry through such a deadly policy?
Governor Cuomo only rescinded Dr Zucker’s order on 11 May – after seven weeks of devastation. The results are clear for everyone to see. The dead have overwhelmingly been those over 65, and particularly those over 75:
The elderly, of course, are the most vulnerable because they are the most likely to suffer from what is variously called underlying conditions, pre-existing illnesses or co-morbidities (defined generally as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, immunodeficiency, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, kidney disease, and GI/liver disease). In fact, regardless of age, the odds of dying from COVID are relatively low if one does not have at least one of those, as the New York City stats again show:
(The great majority of cases and deaths in New York States have occurred in New York City and neighbouring counties.)
Somewhere between 0.4 and 0.5 per cent of the American population live in nursing homes, yet according to the data compiled by Phil Kerpen, the president of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, they account for over half of all the COVID deaths. New York State is a joker in the pack, being the only state, which does not count nursing home residents who have died outside of nursing homes (i.e. in hospitals) in the correct category. This produces an incomplete and misleading figure of under 6,000 nursing homes dead out of the total state death tally of almost 23,000. Kerpen himself suggests that number should be doubled to account for this under-reporting, but it’s only an educated guess. However if that’s the case, New York state would be only the (close) second to New Jersey in the proportion of nursing home residents who have died from COVID (a staggering 12.3 per cent) with the adjusted 11.4 per cent – versus 1.2 per cent in the giant retirement home that is Florida to give just one example.
Brazenly, Cuomo has now ordered an inquiry into the nursing homes’ handling of the disaster. Whatever the failings of the aged care industry, and there are no doubt many and many will be found, it is not designed to deal with pandemic-type emergencies. This is what hospitals are for. And whatever the brick-and-mortar NYC hospitals were doing, the hospital ship USNS “Comfort” spent most of April floating in the New York City harbour with its 1000 beds virtually empty before eventually sailing off; three out of four make-shift overflow hospitals constructed by the state to deal with the COVID sick remained similarly unused. All this while the virus was ripping through the nursing homes, in Governor Cuomo’s own words, “like fire through a dry grass”.
In this particular prairie fire, Cuomo is the one standing with a box of matches in his hands. And yet the arsonist now has the temerity to say that “Older people, vulnerable people are going to die from this virus. That is going to happen despite whatever you do. Because with all our progress as a society, we can’t keep everyone alive. Despite what everything you do and older people are more vulnerable. And that is a fact. And that is not going to change.”
Yes, we know that the elderly are the most vulnerable and the most likely to die – but this does not justify introducing policies that kill them.
P.S. As I have been saying for a while now, New York City has been America’s Wuhan – it should have been shut down and isolated from the rest of the country a lot earlier, which would have saved tens of thousands of lives both in the Big Apple as well as throughout the rest of the United States. Just to see how much New York City skews the US COVID data check out this piece.