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Focus on the Problem, Please



Media attention about the Delta surge is hugely misguided and actually poses a threat to public health by diverting attention from the real problem.

Headlines focus on requirements that schoolchildren and two year olds wear masks and forcing beleaguered restaurant owners to check vaccine cards.  Instead, reporters and policymakers should be focusing on the most vulnerable citizens who die of covid at the highest rates.

The elderly, not school children, are most at risk.  Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis realized early on that the state’s attention should be protecting those in nursing homes.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, instead, sent covid-infected patient back to nursing homes, leading to thousands of excess deaths

A report today by Kaiser Health News reviews the literature and shows an even larger and more silent group is at risk:  Older adults living in their own homes and apartments who “had a significantly heightened risk of dying from covid last year.”  

In “Clarity on Covid Count: Pandemic’s Toll on Seniors Extended Well Beyond Nursing Homes,” reporter Judith Graham writes that “Though deaths in nursing homes received enormous attention, far more older adults who perished from covid lived outside of institutions.” 

We know covid hit seniors hardest:  Nearly four out of five covid deaths in the U.S. were among those over age 65 (480,000 of 606,000 covid deaths in the U.S. overall according to the latest CDC data).

  • Those with co-morbidities were most at risk: 32% of Medicare patients with dementia who got covid died, twice the rate of those with dementia who didn’t get the virus. Older adults with serious and chronic kidney disease, immune deficiencies, severe neurological conditions and multiple co-morbidities also are at substantially increased risk of death from covid. 

Older people with co-morbidities.  That is where the risk is and that is where public health attention should be focused—as Galen Senior Fellow Doug Badger has been writing since last summer.

  • Most of the seniors who died of covid didn’t live in nursing homes. “Of the excess deaths HHS experts documented, 40% occurred in nursing homes but a larger portion, nearly 60%, were seniors living in other settings.”

 “Older adults, especially the eldest groups, who are frail and who live alone or with little support in areas where the virus is spreading rapidly also deserve special outreach and attention,” Graham writes.

Bottom line: 

  • Let children return to school with full-time in person instruction.
  • Drop the mask mandate for these children who are at least risk and for whom wearing masks six hours a day is a much greater health hazard.
  • Governors and state officials should focus on the more difficult but much more important problem of seniors living at home who are most at risk of dying of covid.

    Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a public policy research organization.