French President Emmanuel Macron, right, talks to a resident at the 'La Bonne Eure' nursing home in Bracieux, central France, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. For the first time in months, virus infections and deaths in French nursing homes are on the rise again. (Yoan Valat/Pool Photo via AP)

France's weak spot: Virus infections rise at nursing homes

September 22, 2020 - 9:59 am

PARIS (AP) — Confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths are rising again in France's nursing homes for the first time in months.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited a nursing home in the town of Bracieux in central France on Tuesday, tweeted shortly after his arrival that “our elders, more fragile, are more exposed to the virus. We must collectively redouble our attention.”

Families fear that French authorities have not absorbed the lessons from earlier in the pandemic, when nursing homes across the country shuttered elderly residents inside and were short of protective equipment for employees.

Of the 31,338 people confirmed to have died with the virus in France so far, more than 14,000 lived in nursing homes.

Some French media suggested that Macron's visit sent mixed signals, given that visits to nursing homes were restricted in several large cities. The French government is trying to manage resurgent COVID-19 infections while insisting that the country should be back at school and work and learning to live with the virus.

That strategy is under increasing strain.

France is now reporting several thousand new confirmed virus cases a day and a weekly infection rate of more than 80 new cases per 100,000 people, among the highest rates in Europe as the continent sees the virus again picking up speed.

The number of COVID-19 receiving treatment in French hospitals and in intensive care units also is steadily rising again. Although hospitals are far from their peak admissions during the first wave of the country's outbreak and are better prepared this time around, some COVID-19 wards in hot spots like Marseille are filling up.

While France’s initial surge of post-lockdown virus cases centered mainly on younger people, public health agency Sante Publique says cases are now rising fastest among those over age 75, considered the most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 complications.

Nursing homes reported dozens of new virus clusters and 89 virus-related deaths the week of Sept. 7, the first significant rise in months, according to the agency’s latest figures. Six of the deaths were in a single nursing home in the Occitanie region of southern France. More and more French nursing homes are once again keeping visitors out.

The health agency warned that mounting virus clusters and deaths in nursing homes and increasing cases among people over 75 are “major warning signs” to the public to better protect themselves and their elders.

Like Britain and some other countries, France is also struggling with testing logjams. A massive testing effort has helped identify more confirmed cases but labs are struggling to keep up with demand.

It takes as much as a week or more for virus test results in Paris and some other French cities to come back. The health agency said those delays mean the true number of new cases is even higher and are damaging efforts to trace the contacts of infected individuals to slow the spread of the virus.

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