PHILADELPHIA - With the holiday season kicking into high gear, it is crucial to remember that COVID-19 still remains a deadly threat, especially to our most vulnerable citizens – long term care residents.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) released an updated report today showing how nursing homes are experiencing the worst outbreak of new cases and deaths since the spring due to a high rate of community spread among the general population, surpassing previous peaks since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) started tracking cases in these facilities.
Independent research from experts has shown that community spread is the top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living communities. Dr. David Grabowski, Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, recently stated, “The strongest predictor of whether or not we’ll see cases in [a particular setting] is community spread.”
This is why we must remain cautious around the holiday season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance around the winter holidays, including:
Postponing travel and staying home, but if travel is necessary, checking the COVID-19 infection rates in areas where attendees live on state, local, territorial, or tribal health department websites.
- Celebrating virtually or with members of the same household.
- Wearing a mask.
- Staying at least six feet away from others who do not live together.
- Avoiding crowded poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
- Washing hands regularly.
- Getting a flu shot as soon as possible.
- Holiday celebrations that limit the number of guests and are held outdoors if possible.
- Attending virtual religious services.
Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for the 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 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.”
While a COVID-19 vaccine has begun to be distributed across the country, now is not the time to let down our guard. We must remain vigilant to protect our most vulnerable. Long-term care workers have been doing everything they can to keep their residents safe. Still, they need the help of the general public to minimize outbreaks.