Justice in Aging Statement on Opening Too Soon

Justice in Aging is calling on state and local governments to retain strong social distancing measures to protect the health and safety of older adults in our communities. Relaxing these measures now, even as new models are projecting a near doubling of daily deaths by June 1, is irresponsible and will cost the lives of tens of thousands of older adults. Though the curve is flattening in some places, it is spiking in others. The most critical fact is that the virus remains deadly all across America in every type of community and for every age group, but most especially for seniors, people with disabilities, and people of color.

The health and safety of older adults, communities of color, and others most at risk should be a paramount factor in any decision to relax social distancing measures. Premature opening of businesses will place entire communities at risk of catastrophic harm, because the health of everyone is connected as we begin to interact with one another. But the likelihood of death is much higher for those over 65, especially for older adults of color. Hospital admissions are highest among people over age 65, and 80% of COVID-19 deaths have been people over age 65. Hospital systems in many states have been challenged to meet the demand for care. The premature lifting of stay-at-home orders will increase infection and demand on the healthcare system, making it harder for older adults, and all of us, to get the care we need for COVID-19 or other ailments.

The residents and staff of long-term care and assisted living facilities continue to be at particular risk during this pandemic. In six states, deaths in long-term care facilities account for over 50 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. Overall, deaths in long-term care facilities account for 27 percent of all deaths in the 23 states that are currently reporting this data. Relaxing social distancing measures now will only increase the risk of exposure for the staff and residents in these facilities, adding to the growing tragedy well underway in these congregate settings.

The necessary infrastructure is not yet in place to lift or significantly relax social distancing measures. Doing so now will put us right back where we were earlier in the spring—all while thousands of people are still dying every day. We need to focus on protecting the lives of older adults, and other at-risk members of society, and each other by retaining social distancing measures until the data is clear that cases and deaths are consistently declining and a robust testing and treatment infrastructure is in place.