PARIS—The coronavirus has resurged in Europe’s nursing homes, killing thousands of older people and forcing facilities to make a difficult choice: impose another period of crushing isolation or risk greater exposure to the virus.
Nursing home outbreaks have dashed hopes that their residents could be shielded from the virus when it is spreading quickly in society at large. As cases soared across Europe this fall, nursing home personnel and visitors brought the virus in with them despite strict sanitary rules, infecting tens of thousands of residents, who are most vulnerable to the pathogen because of their age and frailty.
Countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands that closely track nursing home deaths have recorded more than 9,000 since the beginning of October. Other nations such as Italy and Spain that don’t yet have data on nursing home deaths have reported outbreaks in hundreds of facilities in recent weeks.
In France, one of the hardest hit countries during Europe’s second wave, 71,000 residents of nursing homes and other care facilities have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of October. More than 5000 residents have died in the facilities during the second wave, and another 1,500 died after being transferred to hospitals. Around 22,000 residents have died since the start of the pandemic, rivaling the per capita nursing-home death toll in the U.S., where more than 100,000 nursing home residents have died, according to a Wall Street Journal tally.
France locked down nursing homes during the first pandemic wave in the spring, when more than 14,000 residents died. This time, the government has allowed visits to continue to avoid the physical and mental decline that can set in after an extended period of isolation. Depression and cognitive problems among residents surged during the first lockdown, while their physical condition deteriorated from being largely confined to their rooms, health authorities said.
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