Stop hiding COVID-19 cases in nursing homes
Stop hiding COVID-19 cases in nursing homes

Stop hiding COVID-19 cases in nursing homes

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When a West Allis nursing home suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 cases last month, local police knew all about it. They stopped responding with paramedics to the facility to avoid exposing officers to the potentially deadly respiratory disease.

But the general public and many loved ones of residents at Allis Care Center were left in the dark.

At least eight residents of Allis in three weeks died from complications related to COVID-19, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The newspaper had to use medical examiner reports to confirm the death toll that administrators and government officials had kept quiet.

Wisconsin must be more transparent in fighting this pandemic. Public health officials should report which nursing homes have positive cases of COVID-19, and how many residents or workers die from the disease. That way, everyone in these facilities can better protect themselves and their loved ones from infection. Openness also will help ensure that outbreaks are dealt with swiftly and effectively, thanks to public attention and pressure.

The good news is that state officials, who for weeks had defended secrecy, now say they will release the names of nursing homes with COVID-19.

“Our hope is to have that posted this week,” state Department of Health Services spokeswoman Jennifer Miller wrote in an email Tuesday.

Good. And we urge the department to report all cases of COVID-19 and any related deaths at specific nursing homes, not just the worst outbreaks.

Wisconsin had refused to name nursing homes with COVID-19 since this crisis began. Andrea Palm, who leads DHS, had contended nursing homes should be treated the same as private residences.

But nursing homes are different, with lots of vulnerable people under the same roof. The facility with COVID-19 in Milwaukee, for example, had 152 beds, many filled with older people with underlying health conditions who are especially susceptible to the disease.

Nursing homes also staff lots of workers who provide intimate care for residents, potentially exposing these employees and their families to greater risk.

Transparency about when and where positive cases occur alerts the public to the spread of disease so people can make better-informed decisions about their health and the health of those they love.

We’re glad that Palm and her agency now agree on the need for more openness, and we look forward to seeing the list of nursing homes this week. A confirmed case or outbreak doesn’t mean a nursing home is doing a bad job. Even the White House, with its elaborate security and precautions, recently discovered COVID-19 among staff.

The point of transparency is to protect the public, and to ensure that nursing home operators do everything they can to limit exposure and spread.

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