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Understanding COVID-19 in Nursing Homes and What Facilities Can Do


The current coronavirus infection, known as COVID-19, is a pandemic. This viral, respiratory infection is in at least 114 countries and has killed over 555,000 people according to the World Health Organization.

The coronavirus has proven to be particularly deadly for elderly individuals, especially those in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. It can spread rapidly because of the proximity of patients to each other and can be fatal especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

What Is Coronavirus?

Officially known as COVID-19, a coronavirus is a disease or infection that is spread from an animal to a human. COVID-19 is currently causing minor symptoms in most people such as the common cold, however, some patients are developing flu-like symptoms, which take a sudden and aggressive turn, affecting the lungs and sometimes resulting in organ failure and even death. Elderly patients, smokers, or individuals with pre-existing conditions are some of those being hit the hardest.

How Is COVID-19 Spread in Nursing Homes?

Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets that are projected into the air after a cough or sneeze. Any individuals who inhale infected droplets or come into other forms of contact with them can contract the virus. After the initial infection, it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to develop, meaning that you can spread the disease before you even feel sick and before you even know you are infected. Many individuals are sharing rooms, common areas, and seeing the same nurses as other patients. This is resulting in a flood of new infections in nursing homes in Maryland.

What Are Nursing Homes Doing to Protect Their Staff and Patients?

To avoid infection, it is important to take critical measures in facilities housing immune-compromised individuals. Facilities should be sure to follow all clinical guidance for infection control and prevention in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities, and other rehabilitation centers. Some of the key points include the following:

Restricting visitors – If any individual is showing signs of sickness or has engaged in travel to ‘hotspot’ areas, it is best to require them to quarantine for 14 days or longer before visiting. In addition, nursing homes may require visitors to wear face masks or other personal protective equipment.

Limiting Visitations – Nursing homes may also limit or restrict access to residents and facilities where the facility is in a community that has community spread. This includes areas where there are active infections and increasing infections occurring.

Discouraging Visits – Even nursing homes in areas that are not under active community spread may very well discourage visitation from guests in the abundance of precaution to protect the residents.

Monitor the Door – Monitor guests and individuals coming into and out of a nursing home, including offering temperature checks, increasing use of hand sanitizer, offering face masks, and limiting areas for visitations such as not allowing guests into hallways with rooms, but only in communal areas.

Monitoring Necessary Guests – Monitoring contractors and others coming to the facility such as mail carriers, delivery people, repairpersons, and other individuals having official business in a facility is crucial.

Encourage Alternative Means of Communication – Encourage nursing homes to set up more telephones or video conferencing/voice calling areas. Of course, communal telephones must be disinfected after each use.

Limiting Physical Contact Between Guests and Residents – Even if a visitor is allowed in, it is advised that nursing homes discourage any physical contact such as handshaking or hugging.

Monitor Staff Health – Nursing homes should monitor the health of all healthcare workers and ask them to immediately stop working with patients if the staff member develops any signs of a respiratory infection.

Confirmed Cases, Contact Local Hospital and Health Department – Instead of immediately transferring a resident, or instead of not transferring a patient, a nursing home should contact a local health department to assess whether a resident may need to be transferred.

If you believe your loved one was infected during COVID-19 due to a lack of precautions taken by their long-term care facility, contact Potter Law, LLC today.