PENN YAN — Democratic congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano this week took up the topic of support for nursing homes staff in the current coronavirus pandemic.

In her weekly media call, Mitrano said it needs to be easier for nursing home staff to comply with increased testing requirements and other rule changes.

This is the time, she said, to address this country’s expensive, dysfunctional and inefficient healthcare system.

“Healthcare has become so politicized, it’s hard to talk sensibly about it,” Mitrano said. “Can we shift from partisan talking points to addressing the real problem?”

Mitrano called for universal healthcare coverage, but declined to endorse any specific plan. Instead, she listed preferences drawn from hours of conversations with district residents.

Mitrano said said any healthcare plan needs to include “a prohibition against denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, generic pricing for common medications such as insulin, (insulin) pens and inhalers; reducing the age of eligibility for Medicare; tuition forgiveness for medical education; organizing local and regional care with major medical centers and expanding telemedicine options.”

Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer joined Mitrano’s press call to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on residents.

“COVID-19 is a disease to which all of us are vulnerable,” Pillemer said, but it’s “a disease primarily of the older population.”

Although children are among the fatalities, only 2% of all COVID-19 deaths in New York state were people under 40 years old, and almost none were people under 21.

“This disease tracks age structure almost exactly,” Pillemer said. “People 80 years old and over with multiple health conditions are five to 20 times more likely to die if infected. They account for 80% of the COVID-19 deaths in the 65-and-older age group in New York, and it’s even higher in some countries.”

As the elderly are disproportionately represented in coronavirus infection and death statistics, nursing homes are emerging as the type of environment where it spreads fastest.

“It’s a disease of other ‘trapped’ populations—people in group homes, in prisons, areas where people are brought close together. But it has wrought havoc in nursing homes all over the world,” Pillemer said, noting that almost all states report at least 30% of their COVID-19 deaths have occurred in care homes for older people.

In five states, it’s almost 80%, he said, yet less than 1% of the adult population lives in nursing homes.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)