WPRI Channel 12’s Eli Sherman and Walt Buteau reported on April 17 that 80% of COVID-19 deaths in Rhode Island have occurred in nursing homes. (All deaths from a pandemic are awful but somehow a nursing home setting is especially horrifying both because of the vulnerability of the residents and the perception, normally correct, that nursing homes are safe places.)
This disturbing pattern continues with the most recent COVID mortalities announced by the state yesterday: 10 of 13 were nursing home residents.
In fact, we learned Friday from GoLocalProv that COVID-19 is at 50% more Rhode Island nursing homes than was previously disclosed. Also Friday, Governor Raimondo announced that she is sending in the National Guard to assist nursing homes.
On another, very important front, the results of COVID anti-body tests continue to come in – most recently, London and US hotspot New York City – and continue uniformly to confirm the conclusion from prior surveys – that COVID 19 is far more infectious and, therefore, far less deadly than originally thought. (Results of prior studies here.)
So here’s where we stand. The coronavirus curve, here in Rhode Island and everywhere in the United States, has been flattened and hospitals have not been overwhelmed. It is critical to recall and emphasize that this was the original and only point of the draconian shutdown.
Add to this the new information for Rhode Island that over 75% of COVID deaths are in nursing homes, not any place else. So a shut down of any place else – i.e., the business sector and all public places – is obviously not responsive to the problem.
I continue not to question that many of the steps the governor took to fight the spread of the virus arose out of a genuine reflex of protectiveness for its residents. And I understand, when you’re dealing with a crisis, especially one that looked far worse initially, that it is easy to develop tunnel vision which can make you lose sight of things, including even the fact that you achieved your original goal.
The problem is that the shutdown is creating real financial devastation for Rhode Island residents and businesses (and, by extension, state and local governments) that federal bailout money cannot come close to making up. Unemployment filings since March 9 have risen to 180,000. It will soon engender very serious public health consequences up to and specifically including a rise in deaths – from loss of health insurance, decimation of hospitals and health facilities, suicides, drug overdoses. In fact, we would be well advised to set up a shutdown death model to be placed next to all COVID death projections so that the onerous consequences of the lockdown are fully disclosed, both to the public and to officials who are in the position to end it.
I would strongly urge Governor Raimondo to come up for air, look around and examine the big picture, including her achievement of not overwhelming hospitals, and now this new information about where exactly most of the COVID deaths in Rhode Island are occurring. When she does, it will be crystal clear that the situation has changed markedly since March 28, that the shutdown of the state is no longer warranted or responsive to the problem and that it can and must end immediately, with safety measures for vulnerable populations.