State public health officials in Delaware are calling on nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to ban visitors in an attempt to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Senior homes have been the sites of more than a dozen deaths related to the virus in Washington state. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nursing homes are at the “highest risk” of being affected by the new coronavirus disease COVID-19, because of their “congregate nature” and the fact that they serve older adults often with underlying chronic medical conditions.
People over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions are considered at elevated risk for developing the disease, according to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).
“We really are most worried about if there were a case in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, because those are our most fragile Delawareans and we want to keep them healthy,” said DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker.
Some assisted living facilities in the First State were already responding to the pandemic before the state guidance came out Thursday.
Brenda Negron is executive director of The Summit, a 120-bed assisted living facility in Hockessin. She says her company is moving to prevent large gatherings.
“We’ve cancelled some marketing events where people are coming in from the outside,” said Negron. “We’ve moved some of our larger functions into smaller contained areas where there wouldn’t be 30, 40, 50 people in attendance at a program.”
State officials are encouraging long-term care facilities to increase availability of masks and hand sanitizer— but Negron says her facility is struggling to get enough of those types of supplies.
“We’re not in a shortage right now, but if this continues as anticipated, we might be looking at a shortage,” said Negron.
Donna Winegar is executive director for Brandywine Living at Seaside Point — a 150-bed assisted living facility in Rehoboth Beach. She paints guidance coming from government and healthcare associations as plentiful and helpful — but her facility is also struggling to stock supplies.
“We can’t get gowns right now,” said Winegar. “We haven’t been able to get booties for their feet if they have to go into a room that’s under isolation. We’re doing OK getting hand sanitizer and bleach and products like that.”
Winegar adds her facility has stopped taking residents on outings — other than drives in a van.
“I feel very good that we have the information we need and resources we need to continue and progress,” she said.
State public health officials also urge facilities to monitor staff for signs of respiratory infection — and ask any with symptoms to self-isolate at home.
At least one nursing home in Newark, where the first four presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Delaware appeared, says it is doing so.
A spokesperson for Exceptional Living Centers, which operates Churchman Village, a rehabilitation and long-term care facility in Newark along with facilities in several other states, said in a news release the company is directing staff exhibiting signs of sickness to stay home.
She added the company is also temporarily prohibiting all non-essential visitation and screening essential visitors and staff upon entry.
DHSS is advising that community preparedness planning also include older adults, people with disabilities, and the organizations that support them outside of long-term care facilities.