Ina Jaffe

Palestine Howze died April 14, 2020, in a North Carolina nursing home.

She had developed a pressure ulcer — or bed sore as they're commonly known. It flared up in December 2018 and just grew worse, says her daughter Lisa Howze. Infection set in.

"We begged them to take her to the emergency room, but they assured us that they could handle it," Howze says.

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Residents and staff of long-term care facilities account for at least 40% of U.S. deaths from the coronavirus. In reaction, nursing homes have banned family visitors, scrambled for scarce personal safety equipment, and attracted scrutiny from state and federal lawmakers.

What's received less attention is that many nursing homes have remained virtually COVID-19-free. If researchers could figure out what made the difference, that could help protect nursing home residents now and in the future.

But so far, their studies have drawn wildly different conclusions.

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It wasn't candlelight and soft music that made the 40th anniversary of Luann and Jeff Thibodeau so memorable. It was gazing at each other through the window of Jeff's nursing home in Texas and eating carryout from the Olive Garden. Just the two of them. And a nursing assistant.

"She fed him, and I ate mine, and that was it," Luann Thibodeau says. "So that was our 40th wedding anniversary."

Nursing homes were not on our minds much before the COVID-19 pandemic. Then their residents began dying by the thousands.

While there are no definitive figures, nursing home residents and staff appear to account for about one-third of the roughly 90,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S., according to The New York Times. Those figures may be low because some states do not report such figures and the CDC is just beginning to collect them.

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President Trump Thursday announced the formation of an independent commission to look at the response of nursing homes to the coronavirus. The move comes as nursing home operators clamor for more equipment and testing.

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