MADRID (AP) — As the two mortuary workers pushed a stretcher with a bagged corpse out of the room, the elderly man in the adjacent bed briefly awakened from his dementia. “Is he dead?” he muttered, extending his arm, trying to touch his roommate for the last time.
Reflecting on a scene repeated too many times, one of the workers, Manel Rivera, despaired at the growing number of elderly people dying as the coronavirus resurges.
“The sad thing is,” he said of the surviving man in the Barcelona nursing home, “in a few days we’ll probably come back for him.”
Mortuary workers are again busy around-the-clock in nursing homes and hospices across Europe, amid outbreaks that this time are causing havoc mostly in facilities spared during the spring. In the U.S., patients in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and those who care for them have accounted for a staggering 39% of the country’s 281,000 coronavirus deaths.
The surge in Europe is happening despite the retaining wall of measures erected since the spring, including facilities tailored only for residents with coronavirus. It’s also pitching authorities and elder care professionals into a race against the clock before mass vaccinations can begin.
In response, Portugal has deployed military units to train nursing home staff in disinfection. In France, where at least 5,000 institutionalized elderly have died in the past month, and in Germany and Italy, where the summer respite has been followed by an upward turn since September, visits by relatives to nursing homes are being restricted again or banned altogether.