The number of COVID cases across the country is rising at an alarming rate, resulting in a correlating spike in cases in long term care settings. Recent data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) shows that nursing homes continue to see a record number of weekly new cases, surpassing previous peaks since CMS started tracking nursing home cases. The Midwest region in particular has seen a staggering 275% increase since September.
Independent research from our nation’s top academic institutions indicates that the rate of spread within a surrounding community is a primary factor in the likelihood of an outbreak in a long-term care facility. Dr. Tamara Konetzka, a professor of health policy at the University of Chicago explains:
“Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle … Someone has to care for vulnerable nursing home residents, and those caregivers move in and out of the nursing home daily, providing an easy pathway for the virus to enter.”
Long-term care workers continue to do everything they can to keep their residents safe, but they cannot fight this battle alone. With Thanksgiving two days away, members of the public must exercise caution and discipline as they partake in their celebrations.
Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) said, “We understand everyone wants to see their family and friends during the holidays, but we really need to consider our parents and grandparents who are living in our nation’s long term care facilities. Even though you may feel fine, more than half of people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic, and the people you encounter at the Thanksgiving table or out at the grocery store may work in a nursing home or assisted living community. Wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing not only protects you, but it is a sign of respect for our elders and our health care heroes who care for them.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance around hosting or attending holiday gatherings, including:
- Checking the COVID-19 infection rates in areas where attendees live on state, local, territorial, or tribal health department websites.
- Limiting the number of attendees as much as possible to allow people from different households to remain at least six feet apart at all times.
- Hosting outdoor rather than indoor gatherings as much as possible.
- Avoiding holding gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.
- Requiring guests to wear masks.
- Encouraging attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Provide guests information about any COVID-19 safety guidelines and steps that will be in place at the gathering to prevent the spread of the virus.
- Cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.
This holiday season, we must continue to think about our most vulnerable populations. We urge all Americans to help slow the spread of the virus within their communities so we can protect long term care residents and staff.