As the novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) continues its alarming march across the United States, public health experts are warning nursing home residents and staff members to stay especially vigilant for signs of infection. Within a matter of weeks, the coronavirus swept through Life Care Center in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, Washington, infecting at least 50 residents. As of March 2, 2020, at least four residents have been pronounced dead and multiple others have been hospitalized, including a health care worker.
Although the coronavirus only has an estimated fatality rate between 1% and 2%, senior Americans face significantly higher risks of critical illness and fatality due to their weaker immune systems. In fact, one study in JAMA indicated that fatality rates reached up to 15% for older adults in China. Because long-term care facilities and nursing homes have such a high concentration of older adults, it’s easy for contagious illnesses to spread more rapidly than they would outside of the community.
In short, if the coronavirus continues to spread at the community level as public health experts predict, the effect on nursing homes could be catastrophic. As the health officer for King County shared with NPR, “We are very concerned about an outbreak in a setting where there are many older people.”
Staying Alert for Signs of Coronavirus Infection at Nursing Homes
While there are still many things we do not know about the novel coronavirus strain known as COVID-19, researchers currently believe that it spreads through droplets in the air – and that it is transmitted at a slightly higher rate than the seasonal flu. Similar to the flu, it usually begins with a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. As part of the ongoing push to stop the virus from spreading, the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine has released a set of recommendations so that long-term care facilities and nursing homes may better protect their residents.
These recommendations include:
- Enforcing a strict stay-at-home policy for healthcare providers who develop cold or flu symptoms.
- Employing standard precautions against disease when COVID-19 appears in the community, including wearing gloves, facemasks, and gowns as appropriate.
- Reminding all employees to wash their hands frequently with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, disinfectant, or hand soap and water.
- Performing daily cleaning procedures with hospital-grade disinfectants.
- Isolating individuals with suspected cases of COVID-19 and awaiting further consultation from a local health department.
- Implementing facility-wide screening policies for all visitors and guests and monitoring those with respiratory symptoms and fevers.
At this point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated that U.S. citizens can expect widespread transmission of the coronavirus, which has no known treatment or cure. While nursing homes may not be able to prevent the initial spread of the virus, they can take steps to prepare their personnel and keep residents as safe as possible. By observing recommended public health practices and investing in early screening, nursing homes may be able to reduce the serious risk posed to elderly residents.
As nursing home neglect lawyers in Baltimore, our team at Brown & Barron, LLC has seen many cases where a nursing home failed to prevent the spread of a dangerous infection because of negligent hiring and supervision practices. If you or your loved one become infected with COVID-19 as a result of negligence, you could be entitled to sue the facility for damages. With over 75 years of experience securing settlements and verdicts, our attorneys can stand by your side during the difficult process of filing a claim.
Call (410) 698-1717 if you need to speak with a member of our legal team about negligence at a nursing home.