PHCA issues reminder for general public to be mindful of personal illnesses before visiting long-term care facilities during the holiday season
Historical trends show increases in nursing home COVID-19 cases from November-January
HARRISBURG, Pa. (October 24, 2022) –– As the holiday season approaches, the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA) is asking the general public to be mindful of any symptoms of illnesses they may be experiencing — especially COVID-19 symptoms — before visiting a long-term care facility. Those planning to visit a long-term care facility should consider rescheduling a visit or requesting a virtual visit if personal health concerns arise.
Historical data from the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) shows that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing homes in Pennsylvania experienced spikes in COVID-19 cases among residents from November through January. While changes in federal guidance and evolving COVID-19 variants could be contributing factors in causes of these spikes, this particular period of time also encompasses the holiday season, a time when long-term care facilities see increased visitors in buildings. This time of year is also commonly known as “cold and flu season,” leading to the spread of other illnesses as well.
“It is vital for long-term care providers to have the support of those in the community to help protect the health and safety of the vulnerable population they serve,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “Our call for the public to be aware of their own health before entering a long-term care facility is purely a tool to mitigate risk for the loved ones they plan to visit.”
Academic studies have shown that COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents follow the trend of cases among the general public.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Pennsylvania Department of Health have updated guidance for nursing homes based on new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). While this guidance relaxes some requirements, such as when masks are necessary to be worn in a facility and screening testing, long-term care facilities still have infection control protocols in place.
“It is important that visitors continue to adhere to policies providers have put into place in order to protect the health of the residents, staff and visitors,” said Chris Fisher, vice president of operations and quality initiatives at the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “In a communal setting, illnesses can spread fast. Providers have educated about and implemented protections to mitigate the spread of viruses. However, to ensure those protections are successful, everyone inside and visiting a facility must respect them.”
Additional protections for residents also include up-to-date vaccinations. Visiting with residents creates an opportunity to discuss vaccination status with loved ones and the benefits of the COVID-19 and influenza vaccines, particularly for seniors. PHCA encourages residents in long-term care facilities to stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 boosters and this year’s flu shot. If eligible, the bivalent COVID-19 booster is available and provides broad protection against COVID-19, while providing better protection against the omicron variant.