CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities are preparing to restrict visitors because of the continued international spread of coronavirus.
More broadly, nursing home industry leaders across the country said they are recommending unprecedented action to curtail most social visits in the thousands of nursing homes and assisted living centers.
“The mortality rate is shocking,” Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, told The New York Times.
Guidance on the association’s website says, “Waiting until the virus starts to spread in the community, has been shown in prior viral epidemics to be too late.”
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control today advised older adults and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease are at higher risk and should begin to take precautions:
“If a COVID-19 outbreak happens in your community, it could last for a long time. (An outbreak is when a large number of people suddenly get sick.) Depending on how severe the outbreak is, public health officials may recommend community actions to reduce people’s risk of being exposed to COVID-19.”
The advice includes having supplies on hand, avoiding contact with those who are sick and, if the virus starts to spread, staying home as much as possible.
There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far in West Virginia, where — as of Monday — five people had been tested and three came back negative with the other two not yet determined.
West Virginia’s median age of almost 43 ranks it among the top five oldest states in the country. Statistics show West Virginia around the highest prevalence in the country for diabetes, heart disease and lung disease.
The virus has been confirmed in surrounding states. The elderly and those with underlying conditions are considered particularly susceptible to the virus.
“There’s been a national recommendation from the American Health Care Association to consider restriction of visitation,” Marty Wright, chief executive officer of the West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“This is a change from the existing CDC recommendation that you monitor those entering and keep out only those who are symptomatic.”
Wright said facilities have been working together to determine who should have access in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Up to now, facilities had planned to treat the coronavirus much as they would have treated the flu, Wright said. But now the approach is to try to keep the virus from getting in at all.
“We’re moving from an isolation approach if discovered to a more preventative, don’t-let-it-in-the-facility-at-all approach,” Wright said this morning.
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West Virginia has 125 nursing homes with more than 10,000 residents.
In addition, there are 3,500 assisted living beds for those who are more independent.
The facilities have 18,000 employees throughout the state.
Life Care Center of Kirkland, the nursing home in the state of Washington, has been at the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.
Thirty-five test kits went to the nursing home this past weekend. On Monday, 31 came back positive for COVID-19, which is the specific name for the novel coronavirus.
The death toll at the Washington nursing home climbed to 19 with the announcement Monday of three more fatalities.
This form of coronavirus originated in China, a closed society, so assessing the virus has been a challenge. So observers in the United States have been watching the virus and its effects on the nursing home in Washington.
The American Health Care Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, suggested today that the death rate might well exceed the 15 percent that has been reported in China for people aged 80 and older.
That group is watching the Washington nursing home situation closely and advising state organizations.
“That’s now becoming the driver for what we know,” Wright said.
“While still new it is something we have to look to and pay attention to its impact in the facility. In light of the impact it’s having, the response at this point is moving more from an existing prevention into more of an aggressive prevention to not let it get into facilities.”
Here is a full statement from the West Virginia Health Care Association.
“Our priority is always the safety and health of our residents and caregivers. We have been closely monitoring and adhering to the national and state preventative recommendations. However, the data reflecting a disproportionate impact on the elderly, coupled with the outbreak at a long term care home in the State of Washington, is prompting us to consider and evaluate more aggressive measures to prevent the virus from entering a facility.” Said Marty Wright, CEO of the West Virginia Health Care Association. “We have been working closely with state officials in a coordinated approach, and will continue to monitor and adjust protocols as more is learned about the virus.”