Protecting seniors, the most vulnerable to coronavirus, is a top priority as the death toll has climbed to 11 nationwide, with California declaring a state of emergency after an elderly patient died from the virus.
“We have raised the bar regarding infectious disease control at our nursing homes,” Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wednesday night press conference, stressing the focus is on keeping “our elderly safe.”
Some of those new standards include quarantining sick seniors in their rooms, keeping visitors to a minimum and ramping up inspections, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Medicare & Medicaid Services announced.
Elderly people are twice as likely to get severely ill with coronavirus than a younger, healthy person, according to the CDC.
Viruses can spread very rapidly in nursing homes, said former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, who noted that older people with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to getting infected.
There’s also a lot of contact in nursing homes, he said.
“Anyone with a fever or cough shouldn’t be coming into nursing homes, which is good practice for flu season,” said Frieden, now the head of Resolve to Save Lives. “We need to make sure people are protected.”
Nursing homes must screen visitors, said Dr. Richard Beers, chairman of the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Committee on Occupational Health. Visitors should be asked whether they’re feeling ill or if they’ve recently come in contact with sick individuals, Beers said.
“Nursing homes need to be very careful about their elderly population and be very cognizant of visitors,” he said.
If there’s widespread transmission in a nursing home, facility officials need to consider banning visitors, Frieden said.
“Maybe all family members would have to visit virtually for a while until this clears up or we have treatments,” he added.
The Massachusetts Assisted Living Association said nursing homes are redoubling their efforts to keep residents and staff safe by using protective equipment, increasing cleaning measures and encouraging visitors not to come into nursing homes if they are sick.
A total of 719 people have been subject to quarantine in Massachusetts, and 470 of those individuals have completed the monitoring and are no longer in quarantine, according to the state Department of Public Health.
There is one confirmed case of the virus in the Bay State found in a UMass Boston student and another presumptive positive case in a Norfolk County woman in her 20s.
The United States saw two more coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, one in California and one in Washington. Many of the deaths were in elderly people residing at a nursing home outside Seattle.
Extending resources, information and supplies to rural communities and elderly people living in nursing homes were all points of concern expressed by health professionals at a Joint Committee on Public Health hearing at the State House on Wednesday.
“Many communities in Massachusetts do not have the capacity to deal with COVID-19,” said public health nurse Lisa White, using the technical name for coronavirus.
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