Half of Europe's COVID-19 deaths were in long-term care facilities

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz

Up to 50% of the COVID-19 deaths in Europe are associated with long-term care facilities, according to the World Health Organization. Hans Kluge, the WHO's regional European director, shared the data in Thursday's briefing.Kluge said that long-term care has often been "abhorrently neglected." Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Up to half of the people who died of COVID-19 in Europe were residents of long-term care facilities, Hans Kluge, the WHO's regional European director, said on Thursday. 

The data, which does not include every European nation, was released Thursday during the WHO daily press briefing. 

"This is an unimaginable human tragedy," Kluge said. "To the many who are experiencing this loss, my thoughts are with you." 

Residents of nursing homes, often those who are of advanced age and have underlying mental and physical illnesses, are at an elevated risk of being infected and suffering from complications related to COVID-19. 

Many nursing home residents have also gone without visits from their friends and family as lockdown orders are in place, adding more emotional toll on them, Kluge said.

Still, even "the very old" and frail have a good chance of recovery, "if they are well cared for," Kluge said.

"This pandemic has shown a spotlight on the overlooked and undervalued in corners of all society," Kluge said.  "Across the European region, long-term care has often been abhorrently neglected, but it should not be this way." 

Kluge went on to call those who work direct care in nursing homes the "unsung heroes of the pandemic" and noted that they are stretched thin and underpaid. 

Despite many countries locking down their long-term care facilities early and preventing visitors, infections have still been spreading within them.

Going forward, and in the post-COVID world, Kluge said that nursing homes need to empower care workers, change the environment they work in, and have comprehensive plans to prevent and control infections. 

"We much do all we can to ensure that those workers have personal protective equipment and other essential supplies to protect themselves and those they care for," Kluge said. 

Senior Emergency Officer for WHO Catherine Smallwood was asked whether the WHO recommends every resident and employee of a nursing home be tested for the coronavirus. She said that at this time, the agency is recommending that all suspected cases be tested. 

Some countries are taking a broader approach to testing, she said, "but that needs to be carefully balanced with the country's testing overall." 

The disproportionate deaths in the nursing home setting aren't isolated to Europe. The United States has also seen severe outbreaks in long-term care facilities around the country.

Early on in the US infection, nearly 20 percent of all the US deaths were tied to a Seattle area nursing home. 

Earlier this month, health officials discovered 17 bodies piled up in a small morgue of a New Jersey nursing home. 

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