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Resurgence: States must plan ahead to protect care facilities

Before Mid-Ohio Valley residents had a grasp of the seriousness of COVID-19, it had already moved into nursing homes and other long-term care facilities all over the country. Many of the nearly 120,000 Americans whose lives have been claimed by the virus were residents of such facilities.

We have not escaped that here in West Virginia and Ohio. At one point more than 71 percent of the Buckeye State residents killed by COVID-19 were residents or staff members at long-term care facilities. Nearly half the 88 Mountain State deaths have been in nursing homes — and that is despite an intelligent, decisive campaign to keep the virus out.

Part of that strategy, ordered by Gov. Jim Justice, was to have every resident and staff member at every nursing home in West Virginia tested for COVID-19. Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the National Guard to assist in testing at his state’s nursing homes.

Both Justice and DeWine have earned recognition for decisive, science-based responses to the crisis. It has been much, much worse elsewhere.

Had the nation as a whole been prepared with better information from the outset, we might have had an understanding of the toll the virus takes in nursing homes early enough to avoid what happened.

There will be another epidemic in the future. It is only a matter of time.

But a more immediate worry looms. What if, as epidemiologists have suggested may happen, there is a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall? No one expects a vaccine for the disease to be available before early 2021.

How do we react if the coronavirus comes roaring back in a few months?

We do what we would have done earlier if we had known about — and taken seriously — the disease last winter. At the very first indication COVID-19 has regained its strength this fall, we do all we can to erect barriers against it at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Visitation is stopped. Everyone at every facility is tested. Stocks of drugs we now know can help coronavirus patients are rushed to where they are needed.

What we do not do is wait until we are certain nursing homes are under siege again. That will be too late for tens of thousands of people.

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