As the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to spread across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging nursing homes to restrict visits. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are being considered “ground zero” for the spread of coronavirus. This is because of several factors unique to the nursing home environment.
Residents in nursing homes are older, they generally have underlying medical conditions and they live in close quarters. Staff members are in close contact with residents, from feeding and hygiene to housekeeping and healthcare. Add to these factors the fact that many facilities lack optimal infection control policies, and nursing homes become a haven for spreading viruses.
Nursing Home Outbreak Called “Sentinel Event”
The outbreak of coronavirus at the nursing home in Kirkland, Washington is being called by some a “sentinel event.” A sentinel event is a warning of an outbreak or deaths that may be coming. Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington is a tragic glimpse into just how serious the coronavirus outbreak can be. At least 22 of the U.S. deaths related to coronavirus are connected to the facility.
But experts say that deaths from the coronavirus outbreak are not inevitable. The key to preventing deaths is protecting those most vulnerable to the virus and those most likely to experience complications. Those most vulnerable include:
- People over 60
- People who have chronic medical conditions, such as:
- Respiratory disease
Currently, the fatality rate for people with coronavirus is less than one percent. However, the rate is much higher among the elderly and vulnerable populations.
Restricting Visits at Nursing Homes May Prevent Spread of Coronavirus
Experts believe that one of the best ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to reduce exposure between people who are sick and those who are not. Making a tough decision now to restrict visits and limit access to healthcare facilities could prevent more outbreaks like the one in Washington. Not only should nursing homes restrict visits from outside the facility, but they should also make sure that staff members do not come into work if they are sick.
Many companies are considering economic incentives for staff members to ensure that they can stay home without jeopardizing their family’s financial stability. One reason why people often go to work even when they are sick is because they cannot afford to lose income.
What Can We Do to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus in Nursing Homes?
Coronavirus is affecting Americans in almost every state. And everyone has a part to play in preventing further spread of the virus in our communities. Experts recommend the following to prevent the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes:
Everyone can take part in preventing the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes. If you must visit a nursing home, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly before your visit. Also, use hand sanitizer regularly. If you are sick, avoid going to a nursing home or any healthcare facility.
Experts say that if you are well and have no signs of coronavirus, there is no need to wear a face mask. Face masks should be reserved for people who are sick, as well as healthcare providers who are caring for those who are sick. Face masks are selling out at retailers, and there may be shortages at healthcare facilities due to unnecessary stockpiling and use.
For Medically Vulnerable
Being medically vulnerable does not necessarily mean that you are a certain age. Yes, experts believe that the elderly are more at risk than younger people. However, that is largely because most elderly individuals have health conditions that make them more vulnerable. For example, someone who is 70 years old but in good health is at a lower risk of developing coronavirus than a 60-year-old who has diabetes or lung cancer.
People who are most vulnerable are those who have chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems. In nursing homes, the majority of the population of residents may fall into this category. With weakened immune systems, viruses are more severe and are more easily spread.
For Healthcare Providers
Healthcare providers at nursing homes and other healthcare facilities can help prevent the spread of coronavirus by preparing in advance. Infection control procedures must be adhered to, especially in areas where there are high risk patients. Proper triage and isolation of all suspected cases of coronavirus is paramount.
Experts suggest that nursing homes and hospitals prepare similar to how they would during flu season. Expect that there may be a surge in patients who are sick, as well as many concerned family members. Healthcare facilities may also find it helpful to ensure that nurses and staff members are properly trained in respiratory therapy and intensive care support.
For Society at Large
There is a lot of misinformation and rumors circulating through society at large. In order to control the spread of coronavirus, society must pay attention to accurate and legitimate information. Doctors, healthcare experts, scientists – these are the sources of accurate information that will help control the spread of coronavirus. These experts are urging society to practice good common sense safety and health measures, such as:
- Cancel large public gatherings
- Switch to remote classes or work if possible
- Consider closing schools before the virus spreads
- Take measures to protect vulnerable people in our communities
Also, society should take care to monitor the changing situation. The CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) are providing daily updates on the situation as it relates to coronavirus in the U.S. and worldwide. As much as possible, experts are answering questions and offering guidance to help reduce panic and rumors and offer Americans reliable and useful information.
How to Support Nursing Homes
If someone you love lives in a nursing home, of course you want to make sure that they are safe and healthy. As more states restrict visits, you may feel like this is a difficult task. There are some things that you can do to support your loved one and the facility where he or she lives. The CDC recommends:
- Make sure you know what medications your loved one is currently taking. See if you can have extra on hand at the facility.
- Monitor food, household and medical supplies. Talk to nursing home staff to find out how you can get extra items to your loved one.
- Stock up on non-perishable food items for your loved one, and keep additional at your home. This minimizes the need to make trips to the store.
- Monitor the situation at your loved one’s nursing home carefully. Speak with your loved one regularly and get updates from staff.
- Find out what the nursing home’s policy is for outbreaks and infection control.
As difficult as it may be, limiting visits with your loved one in a nursing home may be the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Fortunately, there are alternatives. You can set up video chats or telephone calls in order to keep in touch. Talk to your loved one’s caregivers at the nursing home to find out how you can best keep in touch.
As nursing homes continue to be a vulnerable population, we all must work together to protect our loved ones and those who care for them.