Many nursing homes across the U.S. closed as COVID-19 — the coronavirus — swept across the nation. The nursing homes hope to protect elderly residents who are at a higher risk of coronavirus complications. Yet these shutdowns make it harder for residents and their families to find safe alternatives to nursing homes.
Coronavirus & Nursing Homes Overview
Nursing homes throughout the county have been shut down due to the coronavirus crisis. Nursing homes are particularly high-risk areas since the virus is most dangerous in the elderly.
The virus also spreads rapidly through close contact, which makes facilities with large numbers of seniors present very dangerous.
There have been at least 450 coronavirus-related deaths at nursing homes as of April 2020, and there has been a serious lack of testing available for residents, doctors, nurses, and other staff workers.
As a result, the federal government has ordered many nursing homes throughout the U.S. to be closed. This has created a problem for nursing home residents, who must quickly find new places to live.
In some cases, residents can move in with a friend or a family member. But other residents have found it difficult to find new housing amid the coronavirus crisis.
Why Are Nursing Homes In Lockdown?
Nursing homes are in lockdown because of the high risk of coronavirus contraction among elderly residents. The elderly have the highest rates of hospitalizations and adverse health outcomes related to this virus.
The coronavirus is also highly contagious (much like influenza), which makes any crowded space problematic. Nursing homes are filled with seniors, nurses, doctors, and other staff, which makes it easy for virus transmission throughout a facility.
The lockdowns started in March.
- In Nashville, Tennessee, the National Guard evacuated the Fallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing after it had 100 infections and 4 deaths.
- In Dayton, Ohio, public health officials found that medical specialists that visited several different nursing home facilities each day spread the virus. A local outbreak in the area killed 6 people and almost 50 were infected at nursing homes that were 10 miles apart.
- At the Mount Airy nursing home in Maryland, 5 people were killed and 77 were infected.
Until a vaccine is found or the virus is contained, nursing homes will continue strict lockdown measures.
Have Nursing Homes’ Precautions Helped?
Locking down nursing homes and implementing social distancing has helped to slow the spread of the virus. But some experts believe that the precautions came too late.
By the time that public health officials and state and local governments began reacting, the virus had already spread rapidly throughout several nursing homes.
State officials have also blamed the federal government for not providing them with guidelines for a response.
A number of nursing homes are still not officially on lockdown, which puts the elderly population in those facilities at risk.
Nursing homes in some states have even begun taking in patients from hospitals with overcrowding issues — only increasing the fear of viral spread.
For example, the state of New York issued a statewide advisory preventing nursing homes from denying residents admission if they are a confirmed or suspected coronavirus case.
Federal directives have tried to limit the amount of foot traffic in nursing homes.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent out an order in March stating that nursing homes should stop allowing visitors and non-essential workers in and that all community group activities should be canceled as well.
Still, testing remains limited and not all nursing homes have been able to regularly screen their residents.
Information for Families With Loved Ones in Nursing Homes
If you or a loved one is living in a nursing home during the coronavirus crisis, you should follow federal health guidelines to stay safe.
These guidelines include:
- Avoid public gatherings
- See a doctor if you have symptoms such as fever, cough, or upset stomach
- Keep a distance of 6 feet away from others
- Only meet with friends and family via the phone or internet
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue, then dispose of the tissue and wash your hands
- Wash your hands regularly
- Wear a mask in public
By keeping all these guidelines in mind — and making sure your loved one’s nursing home does so as well — the risks of contracting coronavirus can be reduced.