‘They’re Death Pits’: Virus Claims at Least 6,900 Lives in U.S. Nursing Homes

At a facility in Flushing, N.Y., there had been no indication of a problem, a grandson of a resident said, until last week when he received a call that his grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, was gravely ill. He was coughing hard and had a fever.

About 24 hours later, the man had been transferred to a hospital and was sedated and on a ventilator, his grandson said. By Sunday, he was dead. Only later was the family told that the man had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the grandson, who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Andrew, because his grandmother is still in the nursing home and has yet to be told of her husband’s death. She, too, has tested positive for the virus, he said.

“I know some people would look down on the decision my parents made to put him in the nursing home, but I remember seeing the stress my parents were under,” Andrew said. “It was an impossible situation.”

He said it broke his heart that his grandfather died alone.

“I couldn’t even hold his hand,” he said. “He couldn’t speak English, and he was just surrounded by strangers. I can’t imagine how scared he must have been.”

Some facilities have found creative ways to combat the virus. At the Park Springs Life Plan Community in Stone Mountain, Ga., four staff members and one resident have tested positive for the virus, but they have fully recovered. The facility decided to take a rare step: It asked staff members to volunteer to live on the campus to avoid inadvertently carrying the virus into the facility from home. Sixty workers volunteered. Ginger Hansborough, the facility’s accounting director, who normally lives with a partner and his octogenarian mother, moved in, not only to protect residents at the facility, but also to protect her family.

“I didn’t want to be the reason that anything happened to them,” she said.

Simon Romero, Vanessa Swales, Jack Healy, Alison Saldanha, Karen Yourish, Sarah Almukhtar and Timothy Williams contributed reporting to this story.

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