The new coronavirus sweeping across the world is “the perfect killing machine” for the elderly and the infirm, the head of a U.S. nursing association said. Mark Parkinson, head of the American Health Care Association, made the statement after a series of deaths in several nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the United States.
The deaths were all confirmed to have been caused by COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus which, after originating from Wuhan in China, has since infected other parts of the world.
“The grim reality is that, for the elderly, COVID-19 is almost a perfect killing machine,” Parkinson said, adding that Americans who have relatives and friends in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities must stop visiting their relatives and friends in nursing homes to halt the spread of the disease.
Instead, Parkinson suggested that the concerned family members phone, text or video-call their loved ones until the circumstances change for the better.
“We are encouraging all people, including family members and loved ones, to not visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” Parkinson said.
Tim Killian, the spokesman for one of the nursing homes implicated in the outbreak, said during a news conference Sunday, that 55 positive tests have been linked to their facility, Life Care Center of Kirkland. (Related: Seattle nursing home now seen as possible epicenter of U.S. coronavirus outbreak)
There are about 1,200 long-term care facilities in Illinois, where Life Care Center of Kirkland is located, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been linked to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, with Life Care Center of Kirkland currently leading with 19 deaths, or 61 percent of the nation’s total.
According to Killian, 21 of the cases are current Life Care residents, while the rest are those who are currently in hospitals, or patients who were moved to different facilities. Killian added that there are 28 uninfected residents in the facility.
Killian, at a news conference, said their staff members have found the new virus to be unpredictable and unbiased in who it affects, noting that they have seen patients who, despite being in relatively good health, suddenly develop symptoms.
“We’ve had patients who, within an hour’s time, go from showing no symptoms to going to acute symptoms and being transferred to the hospital,” Killian said.
“And we’ve had patients die relatively quickly under those circumstances,” Killian added.
In addition, Killian mentioned that about one-third of Life Care’s entire staff, or about 65 people, are currently reporting symptoms, but added that only 30 have been tested so far.
According to the University of Washington School of Medicine, while it is possible for them to test all of Life Care Center of Kirkland’s staff for the new coronavirus, the federal government has not given them any testing kits.
Despite the worsening status of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had tested fewer than 100 people this week.
In addition, aside from the CDC, only a single private laboratory is performing coronavirus tests in the U.S., contradicting government statements about private testing centers playing a “critical” role in ensuring testing for every American.
The U.S. has 1,583 positive coronavirus cases and 38 deaths as of this writing.
Health officials faced a back-and-forth with Congress this week regarding their slow response to the disease, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has now declared to be a full-blown pandemic.
The U.S. health department’s response to the outbreak has been met with criticism as well as comparisons to that of other countries’, such as that of South Korea, which has reportedly launched drive-through coronavirus testing locations.
“This is not a problem we can test our way out of,” Stephen Redd, MD, head of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, said during their inquiry with Congress on Wednesday.
Despite public criticism, however, CDC Director Robert Redfield, said during a different hearing that public health labs run by individual states are now ready to “test up to 75,000 people.”
Redfield also added that 75 public labs were ready to perform tests across the United States. The laboratories each have the capacity to perform 100 tests per day.
Despite Redfield’s claim, however, the COVID Tracking Project — a database that updates the test statistics from states and the federal government — says only 7,617 people have been tested in state-operated laboratories as of this writing.
For Tuesday, according to the database, for example, the 50 states cumulatively tested only 2,728 people, which translates to an average of 55 people per state.
According to former Department of Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem, these low testing numbers could lull Americans into a “false sense of security” about the severity of the disease, which has killed 4,961 around the world.
“If Americans conclude that life will continue mostly as normal, they may be wrong,” Kayyem said.
To monitor updates about the pandemic, visit Pandemic.news.