Our Opinion: Doing better by our most vulnerable

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"It's heartbreaking," said Gov. Baker of the way in which COVID-19 swept through the state's nursing homes. The problem is contained now but it will require constant vigilance to be certain that it doesn't erupt again.

Stunningly, 61 percent of the COVID-19 deaths recorded in the state were of nursing home patients, some of them in the homes, some in hospitals. In Berkshire County, where 40 confirmed COVID-19 deaths have been recorded, 24 were residents of Williamstown Commons. ("Berkshire nursing homes have contained COVID-19 for now, after 28 deaths," Eagle, June 4.)

The elderly, especially those with physical problems like respiratory ailments or diabetes, are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, so nursing homes were sitting ducks. The Trump administration's failure to prepare for the spread of the coronavirus meant Americans did not fully understand the gravity of the situation, and test kits, ventilators and other necessary medical equipment were not in place. State and local officials were left scrambling to get test kits and institute safety measures in the nursing homes as a result..

On March 26, state Rep. John Barrett III warned after the first death at Williamstown Commons that "all hell is about to break loose" at the state's nursing homes. Eleven deaths were soon reported at the state-run Holyoke Veterans Home, where 76 deaths were eventually recorded among people who served our nation in the military. Gov. Baker rushed test kits to Williamstown Commons and eventually the problem was contained there and in the other Berkshire and state nursing homes.

The state DPH eventually ordered baseline testing of residents and staffers, many of whom were sickened and recovered. All of the county's nursing homes, including those that through luck or skill escaped the ravages of the coronavirus, have been given a high priority along with their state counterparts in receiving masks and testing equipment. The state conducts home inspections every two weeks to seek out and correct vulnerabilities. The nursing homes have adopted their own procedures for sanitizing and social distancing.

With better weather, the Berkshire homes are cautiously allowing visitors on the premises, primarily outdoors. COVID-19's cruelty is heightened by the necessity to isolate sick and dying patients from their families. Worried families hovering outside windows at Williamstown Commons to look in on parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, were among the more haunting images of the pandemic at its height. Visits would have done wonders for everyone's morale and will do so now..

Should a second wave of the virus strike in the fall, the nursing homes will be much better prepared than they were in March. This vigilance must continue even after the coronavirus threat has passed, whenever that may be. Our elderly population, which has contributed so much to our county and in many cases our nation, deserves no less than the best protection that we can provide.

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