Encouraging trend on COVID transparency

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2020

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Since we wrote in this space last week about a shameful lack of transparency on COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, the tide has been shifting in many parts of the country to a more informed citizenry.

Unfortunately, the Virginia Department of Health and its Western Tidewater Health District haven’t gotten the message. Neither has a Florida company, Consulate Health Care, which owns the nursing home believed to be the source of a spike in Isle of Wight County’s coronavirus cases.

Florida’s governor on Saturday became the latest advocate for transparency surrounding long-term care facilities, which are hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks.

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At Gov. Ron DeSantis’ directive, Florida began releasing the names of nursing homes and assisted living facilities where there are confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In that state as of Saturday, there were 303 long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases totaling 1,694. At least 169 of Florida’s 748 deaths from COVID-19 were related to infections at these facilities.

The decision to release the names of the facilities was based on concerns for public health, DeSantis said.

“I told the surgeon general from the beginning that we want to put as much information out as we can,” the governor said. “I have now directed him to determine that it is necessary for public health to release the names of facilities.”

In Virginia, meanwhile, public health officials have doubled down on their assertion that facilities themselves have a right to privacy. The Western Tidewater Health District has revealed that unnamed long-term care facilities are the source of outbreaks but refused to provide any information that would be helpful to a jittery citizenry. The reputations of facilities with no active COVID-19 cases have been tainted by the health district’s vagueness.

In many places, facilities themselves are doing the right thing and making public their outbreaks.

In rural northern Virginia, a Luray nursing home last week confirmed it had 59 positive cases of COVID-19.

The facility, of course, didn’t release the names of infected residents or staff or any other information that would come close to identifying those victims.

Skyview Springs Rehab and Nursing Center’s transparency was rewarded with an outpouring of public and private support. Page County Fire and Rescue organized a community response that included donations of personal protective equipment and a drive-by parade over the weekend.

“The community’s backing for our residents and staff is among the most valuable forms of support available right now,” the facility’s administrator said in a news release.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Page County had 84 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, along with nine hospitalizations and no deaths. That means the Luray nursing home was the source of more than half of the county’s cases.

Similar transparency is needed from Consulate Health Care regarding its Windsor nursing home. Even if the state doesn’t require it, such candor will build consumer confidence in management’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and fully inform the citizens of Isle of Wight County, which continues to rank among Virginia’s hardest-hit localities per capita.