HARRISBURG, Pa. — Doug Mastriano, Pennsylvania’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, has made the allegation that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s policy of readmitting COVID-19 patients from hospitals to nursing homes caused thousands deaths – an unsubstantiated claim for which no investigator or researcher has provided the slightest proof.
In fact, layers of inspections by researchers have uncovered something entirely different – nursing home workers ushering in the virus every day – while investigators have found administrators flouting the requirements. personnel or infection control procedures.
Additionally, no Pennsylvania nursing home has made such a claim as Mastriano’s, and a national nursing home professional association has endorsed the findings of researchers who say the spread of the virus in nursing homes nurses is directly correlated to community spread.
Either way, Mastriano repeated the baseless claim in front of a friendly audience, weaponizing COVID-19 in an effort to hurt Democrats in one of the nation’s most important gubernatorial races in this mid-term election cycle. -mandate.
Mastriano, a state senator and retired U.S. Army colonel who won the Republican nomination while peddling conspiracy theories, has seemingly come out of nowhere to become a rising force in right-wing politics, mostly in leading anti-closure rallies at the start of the pandemic.
Opposition to shutdowns and mask and vaccine mandates is a central part of Mastriano’s campaign.
It’s also a key line of attack for Mastriano against Democrats, including the party’s gubernatorial candidate, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office has helped defend Wolf’s pandemic policies against legal challenges.
Over the past two years, new research has accumulated on how COVID-19 entered nursing homes.
The virus was widely introduced by asymptomatic workers in areas where the virus was heavily transmitted, the researchers said.
“Our research has been pretty definitive that by far the most important factor in determining if there is an outbreak in the building is community prevalence,” said Vincent Mor, professor of health services, policy and practice at the Brown University. “Nothing else comes close.”
David Grabowski, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, echoed that, saying, “I think pretty strongly that the staff was the dominant route for COVID to enter these buildings.”
At the start of the pandemic, nursing homes lacked trained staff, testing supplies and personal protective equipment that could have helped them slow the spread, researchers say.
Nursing home administrators were unsure whether staff members were asymptomatic. But, they knew staff had to manage residents returning from hospitals according to infection control protocols, said R. Tamara Konetzka, professor of health economics and health services research at the University of Chicago. .
Additionally, the number of staff coming and going from nursing homes every day — hundreds a day at some facilities — has dwarfed the number of readmitted hospital patients, who may have been only a handful at each facility. during the first months of the pandemic, Konetzka and other researchers said.
Some of Konetzka’s research included using cellphone data to track workers’ movements to compare them to the location of outbreaks.
Still, the unproven theory about hospital readmissions featured prominently in Mastriano’s May 17 primary victory speech.
Mastriano made this his prime example that Democrats are “extreme” — an attempt to counter criticism, including from some members of his own party, that he is too extreme to win the fall general election.
“Only a Democrat could get away with failed policies, send sick people into homes killing thousands and get away with it,” Mastriano said.
Mastriano went on to say, “They were the ones who sent the sick back to the homes. Their policies, Democratic policies, and killed so many. It’s extreme.
Wolf’s office hit back, saying Mastriano’s claims were “demonstrably false.”
Mastriano, Wolf’s office said, is a “science denier” who “has put lives at risk throughout the pandemic by openly downplaying the crisis and opposing vaccines and other mitigation efforts.” .
Mastriano captured some aspects of Pennsylvania’s handling of the pandemic.
First, Pennsylvania has reported more COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes than any other state, according to federal data – although researchers have questioned whether states count COVID-19 deaths in the same way. and Pennsylvania has a disproportionate nursing home population.
Second, Wolf’s administration — like those of several other Democratic governors in hard-hit states — issued orders requiring nursing homes to continue accepting residents returning from hospitals to guard against overwhelmed hospitals.
Last week, Mastriano posted a social media meme that accuses Wolf and other governors whose administrations have issued a similar order of “premeditated murder” — another baseless claim.
Wolf’s administration argued that the order also required nursing homes to be able to protect other residents and that it worked with nursing homes that had concerns, she said.
In any case, readmissions were common in every state, and nursing homes received early advice from the federal government and professional associations on how to handle hospital readmissions.
Indeed, in every state, hospitals had to offload recovering patients to ensure they had beds for incoming patients, the researchers said.
A 2020 Justice Department investigation into those orders — during the home stretch of the presidential campaign under former President Donald Trump — ended quietly under President Joe Biden last summer.
The researchers pointed out that states that were hit by the pandemic after Pennsylvania were still unable to protect their nursing home populations, even though they had received more warnings and had no policy to order nursing homes to accept readmissions.
The spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes “was a far bigger problem than any policy could have caused,” Konetzka said.
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