CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-U.S. Justice Dept weighs probe of blue states over COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes

(In third paragraph, corrects spelling of last name of Eric Dreiband)

WASHINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday said it may investigate whether four states led by Democratic governors violated the civil rights of the elderly by requiring nursing homes to admit coronavirus patients, a practice which critics say led to thousands of deaths.

The department said it was seeking COVID-19 data related to nursing homes from four states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations,” Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

The elderly and people with underlying chronic health conditions are among those at highest risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19.

Since the pandemic hit the United States, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and assisted-living centers have registered some of the most lethal localized outbreaks across the country. In one grisly example, a “makeshift morgue” was discovered at a nursing facility in New Jersey, sparking a state investigation. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch)