COVID-19, by necessity, dominates the thoughts and actions of all of those working in or near the senior living and skilled nursing fields right now.

And LeadingAge would like the topic to be on the lips of the candidates for vice president on Wednesday when they debate.

The association has sent moderator Susan Page of USA Today three questions to ask Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic candidate for vice president.

If you’re planning to watch the debate, keep these questions on hand and see whether they enter into any discussion about healthcare:

  • “The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for older adults: 80% of COVID deaths are among people over 65, and over 50,000 people have died in nursing homes. Aging services providers have struggled to obtain adequate personal protective equipment, testing, and workers — and mounting costs are unsustainable. How will you ensure that older adults in senior living settings like nursing homes, assisted living, retirement communities and affordable housing for older adults living on low incomes, are safe during the pandemic?”
  • “The coronavirus pandemic has shown the strain that caregiving has on families across the country. How will you invest services and supports to families, so older adults can stay in their own homes longer?”

One of LeadingAge’s questions is not related to COVID:

  • “There is a severe lack of housing affordable for older adults with low incomes in the United States. Only one out of three older adults eligible for subsidized housing are able to obtain it. How will you address this crisis and invest in more affordable housing for older adults?”

If those three questions look familiar to you, it’s because LeadingAge also proposed them for the first presidential debate, which was held last Tuesday. COVID came up that night, although not in so much detail.

A couple of days later, early Friday morning, President Trump announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and Saturday, he was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “out of an abundance of caution.”

Words he shared on social media when he left the hospital on Monday drew commentary from LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan.

Trump tweeted in part: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

The remark, Sloan said, was “insulting to the thousands of healthcare workers who have put their lives at risk every day, particularly in light of the administration’s weak response to COVID-19.”

The United States, she added, continues to lack a national testing strategy, a supply chain that enables providers to test and care for residents, and sufficient funding for extra staffing, testing, personal protective equipment and enhanced infection control — “and to also keep care providers from closing down.”

“Mr. President, for millions of older adults and the people who care for them, not being afraid of COVID is not an option. More than 153,000 older adults have died of the coronavirus, and their shattered families are still grieving,” Sloan said.  

The tens of thousands of resident and worker lives lost in senior living communities and nursing homes will be the focal point of a national moment of silence at 3:30 p.m. ET this Thursday. The time coincides with the opening general session of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living annual meeting, which is virtual this year.

“We must bear witness to the greatest challenge our profession has ever faced,” AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said. “What our members have fought against and seen in their buildings has been traumatic, but they have shown unparalleled resilience and commitment. While we have experienced great loss, we have also seen tens of thousands of residents recover. We must continue to fight and never give up.”

That fight includes sharing industry stories, keeping the battle and industry needs in the public eye, and working to dispel false information about the disease and what it has done to providers, the employees who work for them and the residents they serve.