The nursing home sector came under heavy criticism, and we might say “heavy-handed” criticism, during this pandemic, especially in the early months. Many of the naysayers, especially the media (hey New York Times, are you listening?), blamed the huge spike in deaths at nursing homes on the providers themselves and the so-called “lax” regulations, especially under the Trump administration. 

But in the more socialist-leaning countries of Europe, the death rate in nursing homes was not only high, but has been spiking again. This is despite the staff being better equipped than they were eight months ago during the first wave when no one really knew what was hitting them.  

Today, as one doctor who works in two facilities in France said, “We’re not lacking sanitary gel, we’re not lacking masks, blouses or gloves. Despite all this, the virus has entered again….We’re missing something.” (From The Wall Street Journal) Widespread testing has also failed to stop the spread in this second phase. Yes, we are all missing something, besides a vaccine. France alone has had more than 22,000 nursing home deaths, with about 8,000 since August 31. 

When you are dealing with a patient population that is old with a weakened immune system and multiple co-morbidities, for some reason this virus can find its way in. Apparently, PPE just didn’t make as much of a difference that some people expected. It helps, but it is not the solution. And in Europe, with testing ramped up, that didn’t seem to stem the tide either.  

As we know, this is a virus that attacks the old and the compromised, but with limited impact on the young and the healthy. Unfortunately, with up to 200,000 positive cases a day now in the U.S., that is the story we hear, and not the fact that the vast majority have mild systems and can stay at home, and about 50% of the people who contract it have no symptoms at all. That doesn’t make the news, but it should. And you will not hear about the low, low percentage of school-age children who have died from it. More have died from the flu in some years. But this news does not make headlines, nor advertising eyeballs. So, this is not a nursing home problem, or an American nursing home problem. This is a universal problem for the frail and old, and one with no borders.