WRAL Special Coverage with Don Taylor: Coronavirus

WRAL: The data trackers show that the cases of long-term facilities make up 18% of all laboratory confirmed cases at more than half of the total deaths in the state. Don Taylor is with Duke University and he joins us tonight to discuss the findings and other issues. Thank you for your time. In your most recent publication, you said we will not get a handle on the pandemic in the state, or the nation, until we can control it in the nursing homes. You call them ‘wells of infection’. Can you speak more about this and what you think needs to be done to make them safer?

DON TAYLOR: Yes. The pandemic continues a pace in nursing homes. Less than 1% of the population lives there, as you said, 20% of the cases are occurring in nursing homes and more than half of the deaths. The way to think about the risk of nursing homes are that you have workers who are there at risk of occupational exposure to bring infection (COVID-19) into the nursing home, as well as taking it out of the nursing home. You also have patients transferred from hospitals for short-term rehab stays who are typically in the same facility with long stay patients. So as long as we have comprehensive and repetitive testing of workers and residents, I don’t think we are going to get control of the pandemic.
WRAL: Well, I’m assuming, in your opinion, we aren’t doing enough in nursing homes in North Carolina?
DON TAYLOR: I think that the United States is not doing enough. We do not have a federal testing policy. We have excess capacity, but in some places the labs are worried about getting paid. First, we need the federal government to guarantee money for testing. That needs to then be passed down to states like North Carolina to organize testing programs. And then there needs to be public/private partnerships with universities to work with nursing homes to implement testing programs, but also to collect evidence to figure out how to do it. What types of tests, how often the test should be done, all of these things are questions that we need to know the answers to, so I think that we need a comprehensive national strategy and federal money with state ability to decide exactly how to implement.
WRAL: This is personal for you. How does your experience change your view on what is happening with our nursing homes?
DON TAYLOR: I’ve had a lot of experience. My mom lives in a care facility in Cary and the unsung heroes of the pandemic are people that, you know, work with older citizens. These are women, almost always. Often immigrants, most of them. Black or brown. Many of them are considered essential, which they are, but they are underpaid. What I have come to realize is those women who show up every single day, they are really important in determining how well my mother is able to live, so this is an important issue and I think it is very important to realize that the workers are at risk themselves in addition to being a risk for infection. We do not need to blame them; we need to support them with testing and PPE and paid time off.
WRAL: One more question real quickly, when the pandemic became a reality, did you and your family ever consider removing your mother from the facility?
DON TAYLOR: My sister and my mom had a discussion about that. Were they going to take my Mom to live with my sister? We decided no because the place she is has cared well for her. I was impressed with their early adoption of some rules to try to deal with the pandemic and in the end, we felt like that was still the best place for her. But, the problem with any place that you have congregated many elderly people, with underlying conditions, it’s like dry kindling waiting for a spark. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t create the problems in that system, it’s just exposed them and laid them bare.
WRAL: We wish your Mother the best, and your family. Don Taylor with the Sanford School of Public Policy. Thank you so much for your time and your insights.
DON TAYLOR: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
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