On March 25 of this annus horribilis, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients. Infections spread like wildfire and thousands died.
On May 10, the governor reversed himself with a revised order that prohibited nursing homes from readmitting residents hospitalized for COVID-19 unless they had two negative PCR tests. The old order quietly disappeared from the website. You need to go to the Internet Archive to find it.
My 89-year-old widowed mother suffers from dementia and is cared for in the Memory Unit of a wonderful continuing care retirement community on Long Island where she and my father had lived independently for many years. On November 21, she tested positive for COVID-19. Because she was running a low-grade fever they quite properly rushed her to the hospital. I was sure she was a goner.
The next day, her fever cleared. She has been asymptomatic and in excellent physical condition ever since. It has been 18 days and counting yet she is still trapped in the hospital’s COVID ward even though she requires no medical care. Why?
Her PCR tests keep coming back positive, even though the experts at the Centers for Disease Control as well as the doctors at the hospital where she is being held prisoner are confident that she is not contagious. Why? Because of Governor Cuomo’s inflexible order, which recognizes no other criteria but a PCR test of dubious clinical value more than ten days after symptoms clear.
Mom now not only has dementia but is going insane. I speak with her four times a day via the Alexa Echo Show video unit I had installed in her room. Every call is the same.
“Where am I? Why am I here? When can I go home? I want to die.”
After days of fighting my way up the chain of command, I finally found a responsible hospital administrator willing to speak the truth to me. I will refrain from publishing his name for his own protection. He told me that he has “tons” of asymptomatic patients across his hospital system occupying expensive and badly needed hospital beds who cannot be released to rehab or nursing homes because their PCR tests are still coming back positive. Some for months.
Every doctor in the hospital realizes that these patients are neither sick nor contagious. Every medical expert knows that PCR tests are highly prone to trigger on tiny fragments of residual RNA even when there is no communicable disease present.
Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, recently explained this phenomenon to the New York Times.
“We’ve been using one type of data for everything, and that is just plus or minus — that’s all,” Dr. Mina said. “We’re using that for clinical diagnostics, for public health, for policy decision-making.”
But yes-no isn’t good enough, he added. It’s the amount of virus that should dictate the infected patient’s next steps. “It’s really irresponsible, I think, to forgo the recognition that this is a quantitative issue,” Dr. Mina said.
The PCR test amplifies genetic matter from the virus in cycles; the fewer cycles required, the greater the amount of virus, or viral load, in the sample. The greater the viral load, the more likely the patient is to be contagious.
Unfortunately, Cuomo’s executive order prevents these people from being discharged. And they are piling up. This is not good science. It is not even good politics. It is madness.
And it’s the result of turning our medical system over to one-size-fits-all executive orders issued by frantic politicians trying to manage their media image. This is a sure way to make any crisis worse.