Preventing Community Spread Of COVID-19 Will Help Shield Long Term Care Residents From Potential Outbreaks

The rise in COVID-19 cases across the country could lead to a third spike in cases in long term care facilities. The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) is urging members of the public to help keep community spread down in order to protect long term care residents and staff from the virus.  

Recent data from Johns Hopkins and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) shows that weekly nursing home cases rose in late September for the first time in seven weeks after new cases declined significantly throughout August and early September. According to Johns Hopkins, COVID cases in the general U.S. population rose by 62,139 cases per week in late September correlating with an uptick in nursing home cases during the week of September 27.

Academic experts have repeatedly noted that the rate of spread within a surrounding community is a key factor in the likelihood of an outbreak in a long term care facility. 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.

In an interview in The Hill, AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson explained how the virus can infiltrate nursing homes once it’s present within the general population. He said, “In virtually every community in the country there’s a lot of COVID in the general population and when our workers go home at night or go into the community … our workers are exposing themselves to the possibility that they could catch COVID. Every single day in a nursing home is a major test.” 

American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow Alex Brill also pointed out, “Kids are giving it to their moms or dads who are nursing home staff, or grandkids are giving it to grandma or grandpa — those are both risks that exist.”

This is not a hypothetical situation. The Washington Post reports​ that a rise in COVID-19 cases among the predominant student population in La Crosse, Wisconsin has led to an outbreak in the city’s nursing homes. Nursing homes in La Crosse had not experienced any COVID deaths for most of 2020, but a “wildfire of infection” has spread throughout the college town and has led to a number of fatalities in recent weeks.

That’s why nursing home operators are sounding the alarm. Ray Perkins, chief operating officer at Joplin, Missouri’s Christian Horizons, said he’s concerned about the increasing rates across the country. Because of community spread, indoor visitation at the facility remains limited. While outdoor visits are currently allowed, changes in cases in the community could potentially end them for a certain period of time.
 
In order to prevent a third spike, members of the public must make a concerted effort to keep the virus from spreading among within their communities. The simplest way people can do their part is to wear a mask. Parkinson said, “It’s [a third spike] still preventable but it will require the public to do something that it has been unable to do until now, which is to show the discipline needed to stop the virus from spreading."

ABOUT AHCA/NCAL
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) represents more than 14,000 non-profit and proprietary skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, sub-acute centers and homes for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. By delivering solutions for quality care, AHCA/NCAL aims to improve the lives of the millions of frail, elderly and individuals with disabilities who receive long term or post-acute care in our member facilities each day. For more information, please visit www.ahcancal.org or www.ncal.org.