Coronavirus and Senior Living Communities

Leonardo Castro
November 3, 2020

We all know there is a global pandemic that has affected millions of lives. As of July 15 there have been around 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States with around 140,000 deaths in the country. More than 43,00 of deaths have come from retirement and senior homes which represent about one third of the nation’s coronavirus deaths. According to the New York Times database, the coronavirus has affected around 238,000 residents of senior homes at around 10,1000 facilities. Obviously these numbers are alarming as many of these deaths come from these facilities where it is estimated that there are around 1.5 million of residents in senior living communities. Here’s what you need to know.

What Was Done to Prevent Infection in Senior Homes?

When the pandemic of the coronavirus set in, families of the elderly in nursing homes were prohibited or limited from making in-person visits and changed lots of the regular program activities to prevent the spread of the virus. Some of these activities included communal dining and group activities which are now reduced to smaller groups to prevent large gatherings.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also issued guidance to each facility such as having daily screenings to every resident for fever or other COVID-19 symptoms. Not only would the residents be screened but anyone entering the building would be screened for any possible symptoms.

Lastly the CDC also required that all employees wear a mask to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus. If a senior home facility does report a COVID-19 case then the federal agencies urge the facility to have employees wear N95 or medical masks and have residents who have been diagnosed with the virus to be designated in an area away from the other residents.

Why Is the Coronavirus Affecting Senior Living Communities?

One of the reasons that the nursing homes were hit the hardest is because of the failure to follow regulations on time to help stop the spread of the virus. These nursing homes also lacked the basic supplies such as masks and gowns when the coronavirus started which made it harder to follow the regulations. The failure to make universal testing in these facilities was also a cause that led to many breakouts in these facilities since they were not able to trace people with the virus. These communities often have many group and physical contact activities which made it easier to spread the virus which is transmitted to by respiratory droplets when people are close to each other. Many of these senior homes have employees who work in multiple facilities which increases the chances of exposure. Many of these facilities have residents that share many amenities and rooms which makes it harder for the residents to social distance and easier to spread the virus.

Many people living in these senior communities are at high risk for severe illness from the COVID-19 because studies have shown that the COVID-19 has been more severe as age increases and/or there are underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease. Not only is the virus dangerous for the habitants of the senior homes but the virus is more easily spread in these places due to the lack of social distancing.

New Changes Being Made

As retirements and senior homes start to open up there is some new strategies to maintain a healthy environment:

Cleaning and Disinfection. Expect to have frequently touched surfaces (door handles, sink handles, hand railings, etc.) and shared objects (computer equipment, remote controls, etc.) to be cleaned and disinfected more often. They will be cleaned daily or between use as much as possible. There will also be a limitation of use of shared objects. Residents, volunteers and visitors will be encouraged to keep their personal items and work space as clean as possible.

Ventilation. To make sure that the facilities are receiving fresh air, it is advised that there be a proper ventilation system to increase air circulation

Water Systems. Drinking fountains will be cleaned more often than usual but it is encouraged that visitors bring their own water to minimize the sharing of water fountains.

Modified Layouts. Expect facilities to have modified and altered schedules to reduce close contact of individuals.These modifications can affect meal and activity times. More regulations will be placed to reduce gathering of people throughout the facility. For example some facilities may limit the amount of people that can be present in a room. Seating arrangements may also be changed so that chairs and tables are at least 6 feet apart.

Physical Barriers. The facilities should also install more physical barriers to encourage social distancing and protection for the residents. Examples of physical barriers include sneeze guards, partitions and physical guides such as signs on the walls to ensure that individuals remain 6 feet away from each other.

Hand Hygiene. Residents are encouraged to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. If there is no soap or water then residents should be provided with hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.

Can I Visit My Loved Ones in a Nursing Home?

Most of these senior communities are still under lockdown and are only allowing building entry to essential staff, health care workers and vendors. Some facilities are allowing visitors while following regulations and recommendations from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Before reopening to visitors, the CMS guidelines require a decline in cases in the surrounding community, universal testing for all residents, adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and cleaning/ disinfecting products.

Some states have allowed outdoor visits as a transitional step to eventually reopen. The reason for the outdoor visits is because research shows that the virus spread less in open air. These visits require that the visitors get screened for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms. They will also need to answer questions about their potential exposure.

During the meeting with your loved one you will need to keep a social distance of 6 feet and wear a mask. If you do not want to risk exposing your loved ones in these senior homes then an alternative would be to have video calls like Zoom, Skype, and Facetime to slow the spread.

Should I Consider Taking My Loved Ones Out of a Nursing Home?

This answer varies from family to family as every family has their problems. Some families may bring a senior home during the pandemic but there are also some homes that may not be able to provide medical and other needs that these nursing homes provide. The best option would be to ask your loved one’s medical provider to see if it is safe to bring your loved one home.

Make Sure Your Loved One Has Medicare Coverage

October 15, 2020 to December 7, 2020 you can make changes to your loved one’s Medicare plan. This is an important period of time for you, for coverage that will take effect January 2021. Make sure you stay on top of your pickings come this time of year.

This is when you can:

  • Switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.
  • Switch back to Original Medicare from Medicare Advantage. You can also add Part D (prescription drug plan) and Medigap plans if you do so.
  • Switch Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Switch Medicare Part D plans.
  • Buy a Part D plan. If you don’t sign up for a drug plan when you first become eligible you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty.

Why Medicare Advantage? Medicare Advantage is Medicare with some additional benefits. And just because it’s considered a private insurer doesn’t mean it’ll be more expensive. For more information about enrolling, contact 855.214.2291.

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