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Keep older people safe

The decision last week to dispatch National Guard personnel to Ohio nursing homes to help with COVID-19 testing did not come a moment too soon. While the disease seems to be on the retreat in much of the Buckeye State, its rampage through some long-term care facilities seems to be at its height.

Monroe County had been a bright spot through much of the epidemic. On May 1, the cumulative total of COVID-19 diagnoses there was just six. By Monday, it had skyrocketed to 79 cases — and 14 deaths. Much of the devastation in that county was centered on a nursing home, where 45 cases had been recorded.

Just a few days ago, Ohio public health officials reported that nearly 70 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths had been in nursing homes.

Last Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that National Guard personnel would be helping with COVID-19 testing at nursing homes, focusing on nursing home employees. That is wise because, in view of restrictions on visitors to long-term care facilities, staff members clearly must be bringing the virus into them.

Almost from the start of the epidemic in this country, we have known older people with pre-existing health care conditions are, by far, the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Clearly, however, efforts to erect a barrier against the disease around long-term care facilities have failed. By last week, COVID-19 cases had been reported in 405 nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout Ohio.

In making his announcement, the governor remarked that testing “will help nursing home administrators understand the status of the virus in their facilities and will help isolate the virus and keep it from infecting their community.” That certainly is important — but doing something more for the older, infirm residents of long-term care centers is critical.

What that may be we do not know. Experience around the nation indicates officials in many other states are uncertain, too.

DeWine and public health officials in Ohio ought to redouble their efforts to find answers for the state’s most vulnerable residents. Surely there is something more that can be done to keep them safe during the epidemic.

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