PARIS — Virus pressure is mounting at French nursing homes, where more than 400 people with COVID-19 have died in the past week and some residents are again being confined to their rooms and cut off from their families.
"I cry every day," said Patricia Deliry, 81, whose daughter usually provides daily assistance at her Paris care home but has been kept away for the past two weeks as part of the home's virus protection efforts. Deliry hasn't been able to see fellow residents either. "We're confined, closed in from morning to night."
French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Friday that the government is sending 1.6 million rapid virus tests to care homes across the country to allow them to test personnel. It's part of efforts to avoid mass new confinement of nursing home residents after the anguish caused during a nationwide lockdown in the spring. Germany launched a similar antigen test effort at nursing homes this week.
"The goal is to learn lessons from the first wave," said the government minister for elderly care issues, Brigitte Bourgignon, while visiting a nursing home south of Paris on Friday. "What we want is to stay on this balancing line -- which is difficult -- between the protection that we owe our elders but also the fact that we should respect their rights and therefore not isolate them totally."
More people have died with the virus in French nursing homes in the last two weeks than in the previous five months combined, according to public health agency figures. The health minister said Friday that 15% of homes currently have active virus cases, and "mortality is growing every day, like we saw in the first wave."
France has reported 12,079 virus-related deaths in nursing homes overall; many other nursing home residents died after being transferred to hospitals. They make up a large proportion of the 39,037 total reported deaths in France, among the world's highest tolls.
France is currently under a new partial lockdown as overall virus hospitalizations and deaths have risen sharply in recent weeks, but nursing homes are allowed to stay open if they take precautions. Many still allow visitors to see family members through plexiglass dividers or at a large distance.
Deliry's care home has said it periodically suspends family visits and re-confines some residents as new cases emerge, then allows them back with distancing and disinfection requirements when the risk subsides. But for residents and their relatives, the unpredictability is deeply frustrating.
"At least there is television (in the room), or I would be banging my head against the wall," Deliry, who is partially disabled after a stroke, told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile care home staff are under increasing strain. Bourguignon said medical students would be called in to reinforce nursing home personnel, and told workers, "Hang in there. Yes, the second wave is here, and there will be enormous work to take on, and there will be difficult situations."