United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
Ageism and the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Could there be a correlation between ageism and the high numbers of seniors who are sick and have died due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Many cultures celebrate the aging process and revere their elders. However, in Western cultures aging is stigmatized and the elderly are commonly removed from the community and relegated to hospitals and nursing homes, making aging a shameful experience.
According to the article Ageism Is Making the Pandemic Worse: The disregard for the elderly that’s woven into American culture is hurting everyone, the bias towards aging can affect the medical treatment that seniors receive.
In the current COVID-19 crisis, for example, hospitals may develop special clinical protocols for children and adults with COVID-19, a standard protocol throughout the country, but it doesn’t appear that such protocols exist for elders, the most vulnerable group. And, sadly, some people say that elders are dying anyway and tend to blame old age itself for their deaths - not a flawed system.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities and COVID-19
Of particular concern are the about 1.3 million residents of the United States' 15,600 nursing homes and long-term care facilities. More than 3,600 deaths nationwide have been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities, an alarming rise in just the past two weeks, according to the latest count by The Associated Press.
But the true toll among the mostly frail and elderly people who live in such facilities is likely much higher, experts say. Here are possible reasons for that undercount, and for large outbreaks and deaths due to COVID-19 in congregant care facilities:
- Lack of widespread testing for the virus. Most state counts don’t include those who died without ever being tested for COVID-19.
- Testing results that take 3-6 days during which time patients can expose other patients, and caregivers can be exposed if they do not have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
- Inconsistent record keeping from state to state. Information is not readily available.
- Screenings that didn’t catch people who were infected but asymptomatic.
- Infected health workers who worked at several different nursing home facilities.
- Neither the CDC nor the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are tracking the number of U.S. nursing homes with COVID-19 cases, or the number of total cases and fatalities in those facilities.
- Nursing home deaths may keep climbing because of chronic staffing shortages.
What is needed to help reduce cases and deaths from COVID-19 in congregant care facilities?
The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living has issued guidance to its members, recommending facilities report every positive COVID-19 test result to the state and notify all residents, families and staff when the first case is confirmed. The organization says it hopes federal agencies will use the data to target resources and testing. Collecting data specific to nursing homes is vital for officials to navigate the current crisis, and for mitigating future outbreak
Resources on Ageism
Ageism in America is Hurting Us All
“Ageism is a prejudice against older people and, just as with any prejudice, it creates serious issues in society. According the World Health Organization, ageism is most rampant in high-income countries, like the United States. Americans place great value on youth, beauty, vitality and the ability to earn a large income. Aging is often seen as a debilitating process that robs people of these highly prized attributes.”
The negative impacts of ageism on the health of seniors results in more stress, depression and a higher risk of heart disease, which can in turn accelerate withdrawal and physical decline.
In addition to negative health impacts, age discrimination in the workforce can have a devastating impact on seniors’ economic viability, sending many seniors into poverty. While the Age Discrimination Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate against workers aged 40 and over, as many as 2/3 of workers between the ages of 45 and 74 say they have experienced age discrimination at work.
The Bias of Medical Care Providers Towards Aging
Older people in our society are generally regarded as less valuable than younger people and many medical care providers will unconsciously have this same attitude towards their older patients when it comes to care. As a result, if an older person has a medical complaint and the cause is not readily apparent, a medical practitioner may be more likely to accept the condition as a consequence of aging.
COVID-19 Guidance for Older Adults
Stress and Coping
No, Coronavirus Is Not ‘Just Killing Old People’
At least 2,300 nursing homes have coronavirus cases — and the reality is likely much worse
Supporting older people during the COVID-19 pandemic is everyone’s business
Covid-19 Kills ‘Only Old People.’ Only?
Advocacy opportunity: Call on your local, state and U.S. elected officials to record and report COVID-19 deaths in congregate care facilities. While you're at it, press them to ensure widely available, rapid testing and to be tough on age discrimination in medical care.
Correction: Yesterday's UCC COVID-19 Daily Briefing omitted the name of the U.S. Cabinet member from whom states may request a waiver "to provide temporary, emergency benefits to existing SNAP households up to the maximum monthly allotment." It is USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Click here for the corrected daily "brief."