Fears about coronavirus, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) infection, are continuing to increase—especially for vulnerable populations like older adults and those with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes.
For assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other long-term care providers, there is concern that coronavirus could spread quickly throughout the community and lead to disruptions in care. Luckily, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other agencies are compiling recommended guidelines for prevention—and we’re sharing some of their most important and relevant tips here.
This simplest instruction is arguably the most important. Properly washing your hands regularly is the best way to prevent any virus from spreading. Communicate this to all your staff and ensure that all care providers, administrators, kitchen staff, janitorial staff, and any other team members are washing their hands thoroughly and often.
Remember that handwashing should take at least 20 seconds with soap and water (or a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, per the CDC). Don’t forget to dry your hands properly, to try to keep your hands moisturized in between to prevent cracked skin, and to avoid touching your face in between washes.
The most prominent symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, sore throat, persistent chest pain, and shortness of breath. While any one of these could be a common symptom of other respiratory illnesses or health issues, it’s important to take these signs seriously as potential indicators of the virus.
Because COVID-19 has been shown to spread so quickly, particularly in highly populated environments and among vulnerable populations, it’s best for your entire community not to discount these in any one of your residents or patients.
Moving seniors with symptoms of COVID-19 may be your first impulse but think twice between moving residents around. Often the best step to take first instead is quarantine individuals showing signs of the virus. Because the virus is community spread, relocating someone can end up providing more opportunities to spread the disease than keeping it contained in one room.
For this reason, long-term care facilities may also consider limiting or eliminating certain group activities or communal dining if coronavirus is suspected.
With the heavy media attention and increasing fears about the pandemic, many areas are reporting shortages of masks, disinfectants, and other medical and household supplies. Don’t encourage these supply shortages by hoarding as much as you can, but do keep a close eye on your available supplies and restock often to ensure you don’t run out of the items you need most. Don’t forget to include medications, food and dietary supplements, and other items needed to ensure a healthy and safe environment for your residents.
In addition, encourage staff to limit sharing as much as possible: from pens and clipboards to phones, tablets, and nursing stations, there are many opportunities for viruses to become shared among staff and residents. Sanitize any shared supplies and surfaces regularly.
In addition to the concern that daily visitors could encourage transfer of the virus into or out of your facility, there are also fears among some family members that their loved one is at risk by living in a long-term care community.
Share your plans to prepare for COVID-19, the preventative measures you’re taking, and other steps to ensure community health throughout this global health scare. Encourage all visitors to take the same sanitary steps your staff are taking, limit their presence to certain areas of the facility, and keep them informed of any news related to the virus. This can help keep your community calm and ensure all your residents continue receiving the care they need—with or without coronavirus in your midst.
Remember that cases of the coronavirus infection are critical or life threatening in fewer than 5% of cases and upwards of 80% of cases are mild. We encourage you to take any signs of COVID-19 in your community very seriously but do not want health care providers, long-term care residents, or families to panic!
Follow the CDC for more information and ongoing updates on COVID-19 in the United States.