Coronavirus Management for Residential Care Facilities

The close-quarters spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in residential care facilities poses a significant health threat to the vulnerable senior population, and the time to take action is now. RCFE Administrators and licensees in California and beyond are being encouraged by the CDC and Departments of Social Services to have a plan in place in the event of an outbreak in their community.  Assisted Living Education is here to assist you in managing  your RCFE and staying informed. 

Thus far there have been 22 deaths from coronavirus in the United States, with a total of 154 cases confirmed nationwide. California reported its first death recently following a growing outbreak in the Bay Area, but it’s Washington state that has been hit the hardest, with the ten remaining U.S. deaths all happening in and around Seattle.

By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the ongoing emergency at Life Care Center in Kirkland, WA, the nursing home that now serves as an example of what we should all be trying to prevent:  an unchecked outbreak on its premises is to blame for five deaths seen thus far.

While the global mortality rate is 3.4% (WHO, March 2), among seniors and those with underlying medical conditions the fatality rate appears quite a bit higher — about 14%. Comparatively, the mortality rate of the seasonal flu is typically about 0.1% in the U.S. The reality is that it’s difficult to fully ascertain the morbidity and mortality of coronavirus. Experts suspect that the actual number of cases in the U.S. could be in the thousands, but since many people who contract the virus experience milder symptoms similar to those of other respiratory illnesses (e.g. the common cold) — they don’t isolate themselves and continue on with their daily lives. As a result, transmission rates could be much, much higher.

Per a CDC fact-sheet about how coronavirus is spread, here’s what you should know:

  • The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person [and] between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • [It is spread] through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
  • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), [but] some spread might be possible before people show symptoms.
  • It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. 

Considering these facts, the danger of COVID-19 spreading unnoticed through our communities is something we should all be concerned about, but for residential care facilities it presents a clear and present danger. The tragic situation in that Washington nursing home should serve as a wake-up call for every RCFE Administrator and licensee. There is no time to delay.

So what should senior care facilities be doing to manage the spread of coronavirus among their residents? Here’s what the California Department of Social Services and the Centers for Disease Control suggest:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to  others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

For more specific information on how a long term care facility (LTCF) can minimize it’s risk of a coronavirus outbreak, the CDC has resources for healthcare facilities to help licensees build a more specific action plan. Pages we recommend reading include:    

There is a lot we do not yet know about COVID-19, and every day brings new details about the virus, it’s spread, and the risk we might face going forward. It’s not a situation that calls for an alarmist reponse — few situations do — but it is a reality that we need to prepare for. As it stands, a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is still at least a year out, and just this week China announced that it had isolated two different strains of the virus. Meaning, it’s likely going to be a while until we are all out of the woods.

For Residential Care Facilities for the Eldery, that means taking preventative measures now to ensure they can safely manage a potential outbreak among their residents. We have a long road ahead of us, and lives are at stake.

If your facility needs assistance with formulating an action plan please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. We offer an online infection control course as well. Here at Assisted Living Education it is our core value to empower our students to care for the elderly in the most responsible and compassionate ways possible. This includes protecting them from threats like the coronavirus to the best of our ability. Together we can make a difference and help prevent further tragedy. 

Assisted Living Education is the premier provider of RCFE classes, licensing, products and services for assisted living. Our teachers are industry professionals with many years of experience that are engaging, entertaining and highly informative. They offer RCFE consulting services and share real RCFE experience that will help you be successful in this fast growing career industry.

About Assisted Living Education
Assisted Living Education has been operating in and improving the growing senior care industry for over 15 years. Founded by certified RCFE administrators, Jane Van Dyke-Perez and Bill Perez, we have licensed more than 1,100 assisted living facilities and built close relationships with the California Department of Social Services, assisted living managers, owners and industry professionals. As senior living care educators ourselves, we strive to contribute our knowledge and skills to continually improve senior care and the satisfaction of those working in the industry.