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Senior Safety

W.Va. vaccinating at nursing homes

Many West Virginians will not be able to celebrate this Christmas with grandfathers and grandmothers. Our concern for them and other older Mountain State neighbors will keep us apart.

But we can celebrate something truly wonderful. Many of our precious older people may not be with us tomorrow — but they will be alive and with the hope they can be with us next Christmas.

We in West Virginia can mark this Christmas, in the midst of a terrible epidemic, with the joy of knowing how very well we as a state have safeguarded residents of nursing homes and other long-term care centers.

To our sorrow, we have not been able to save them all. By last Friday, the most recent state report on nursing homes showed COVID-19 had claimed the lives of 387 West Virginians in long-term care centers.

As Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials have emphasized, each and every life is precious. Each and every one taken by the epidemic is mourned. We have suffered an awful tragedy, a terrible loss.

Beyond doubt, however, we as a people, following a strategy to which Justice and others in Charleston are committed, have saved many lives in long-term care centers.

At last count, about 34.3% of the COVID-19 deaths in our state have been in nursing homes. That compares to a national average of 38%. No adjacent state has a better record. Pennsylvania’s nursing home death rate has been 60%.

We know how lives in long-term care centers here have been safeguarded. Early in the epidemic, Justice ordered that every resident and staff member of every nursing home in West Virginia be tested for the disease. Regular testing has proceeded since then, allowing long-term care centers with outbreaks to limit them to some extent.

West Virginia has continued to provide outstanding aid to nursing homes, often providing National Guard personnel to them.

But as the disease surged, the coronavirus found ways into most of our nursing homes. Just five of the more than 120 long-term care centers in West Virginia have escaped it entirely.

News earlier this month that an effective vaccine against the virus was on the way was cause for hope — but only that. Supplies of the two vaccines approved for use remain very limited.

Even though long-term care residents and staffs are high on the priority list to be vaccinated, many throughout the United States remain in fear — while they wait. Families and friends worry whether the life-saving medicine will get there in time.

In West Virginia, that fear is gone. Because of the efforts of state officials who rushed vaccine to our nursing homes, National Guard personnel and others who transported it and pharmacy staffs who administered it, our state is ahead — far so in comparison to some others — in vaccinating those at nursing homes.

By next week, the work may be completed. The Mountain State, so often ranked 49th or 50th in comparison to other states, may finish this race — for life itself — first.

What has happened here among the hills is, in a way, a Christmas miracle. May God bless all the compassionate, sometimes courageous, men and women who made it happen. Merry Christmas to each and every one of them.

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