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Senior Living and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

By Joe CarneyJuly 13, 2021
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Vaccines and declining COVID-19 cases have brought relief to senior living communities across the United States. Vaccine clinics in long-term care communities saw participation rates of 95% in residents and 90% among staff members, according to AARP.

With increasingly favorable conditions, many communities have been able to open back up in significant ways. Local guidelines and recommendations from federal entities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are strong influences on community practices.

“We are still observing our safety protocols,” says Bill Todd, public relations at Atria Senior Living, an A Place for Mom community partner, “but are also able to expand group dining, the use of community amenities, and increased family visits as regulators allow in each state.”

While a return to the old normal looks closer and closer, some safety measures are still in place to protect seniors and staff. Explore current community visiting policies, available amenities and services, and measures in place to keep residents safe as the pandemic subsides.

Can residents have in-person visitors?

Yes, many communities are allowing in-person, indoor visits with fewer restrictions compared to the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. However, communities still typically ask visitors to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“If we can help with the emotional well-being of residents in our buildings, we want to do that,” says Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, a long-term care association. “But we know we have to be safe.”

Local guidelines largely determine a community’s visiting policies, and those guidelines can vary widely at state and county levels. For example, states like New York and New Hampshire only allow visits to facilities that haven’t had a positive case in the last 14 days and are in a county with a low positivity rate. These states also encourage outdoor visits whenever possible. Many other states, including Texas and Arizona, commonly allow indoor visits and permit outdoor visits even if there’s been a recent outbreak within the community.

Here are the most recent stats from a daily survey of over 900 of A Place for Mom’s partnered communities:

  • 83% allow full visiting privileges after taking a screening survey
  • 13% only allow visitors in designated areas
  • 4% allow full visiting privileges with no restrictions
  • Less than 1% don’t allow in-person visits

In communities that can’t allow regular visitors, essential caregivers can have special visiting privileges. Upon moving into a community located in an area with a high positivity rate, residents may be able to designate an essential caregiver — someone 18 or older who advocates for the resident’s needs, provides companionship, and assists with activities. Essential caregivers can often visit suites and get within 6 feet of a resident if necessary for proper care.

“Let’s say you’re in a county that has a 10% or higher COVID-19 positivity rate. You can’t open your doors to visitors — besides for essential caregivers,” Cullen says. If your loved one recently moved into a community that doesn’t allow regular visitors, it may be worth seeing if they can receive visits from a designated essential caregiver.

Are meals and group activities back to normal?

In many cases, communities now offer full dining services and complete activity programs. Activities such as day trips, unmasked socializing, and community gyms are becoming more and more common.

“We thrive on providing engaging and social environments for our residents, which is why we are thrilled that vaccination rates are climbing and COVID cases in our market areas are declining,” says Christy Van Der Westhuizen, vice president of sales and marketing at MBK Senior Living.

Here’s what dining and activities are like in communities across the U.S., according to A Place for Mom’s ongoing survey:

  • 93% have full dining services
  • 88% offer all activities
  • 12% offer limited activities with COVID-19 restrictions

If regular activities aren’t feasible, communities can get creative with unique, engaging activities that keep residents safe. Some communities, such as Sunrise Senior Living, have used personalized packages with activities to residents’ rooms. These kits may include puzzles, word searches, coloring pages, and other cognitive activities. Other communities have held small events outside, such as socially distanced walking clubs, brain boosting games, and lemonade stands.

How have safety procedures changed for residents and staff?

Communities in areas with low COVID-19 rates can reduce safety measures, and many have done so. Often, though, many safety measures that have been a staple in public facilities throughout the pandemic remain in place.

“Screening continues as a best practice throughout all MBK communities,” Van Der Westhuizen says. “However, other visitor restrictions vary from MBK community to MBK community. For example, our Colorado communities can now invite fully vaccinated visitors to activities and to dine with residents. In other markets, we continue to limit those services to residents only due to public health guidelines.”

With higher vaccine rates and declining cases, “elaborate COVID measures are becoming less necessary,” Van Der Westhuizen says.

Here are some of the most common safety practices still in place at many communities:

  1. COVID-19 vaccinesWith safety in mind, a growing number of communities have required vaccines for all staff members and continue to strongly encourage them for residents.
  2. Masks. Many communities continue to ask residents — vaccinated or not — to wear masks in common spaces to limit spread and protect unvaccinated residents. For staff, masks and other personal protective equipment are still common requirements.
  3. Screening. In addition to pre-visit surveys, on-site temperature screening and COVID-19 tests for staff and residents are common during active outbreaks within communities. Seniors moving into a community may have the option to be tested or to quarantine for 14 days. If a new resident is vaccinated, they may not be required to quarantine.
  4. Deep cleaning. Many communities are still diligent about disinfecting surfaces and common-area objects such as door handles, faucets, handrails, tables, and chairs. Frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers is often a requirement for staff and strongly encouraged for residents.

With adults over the age of 65 having the highest rate of vaccinations according to the CDC, senior living communities are optimistic yet eager to remain safe as the pandemic tapers off in the U.S.

“Our residents and staff couldn’t be more excited to put the pandemic behind us and take on a beautiful life ahead, together,” Todd says.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Preventing Spread of COVID-19 in Assisted Living.
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/assisted-living.html

Sunrise Senior Living. Phased Resumption of Operations Plan.
https://www.sunriseseniorliving.com/covid-19_resumption.aspx

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older Adults.
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker: Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care (LTC) Program.
https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations-ltc

Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Living in or Visiting Retirement Communities or Independent Living Facilities”
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/retirement/residents.html

The Scientific World Journal. Virtual visits in home health care for older adults.
https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/689873

AARP. More Nursing Homes Are Requiring Staff COVID-19 Vaccinations.
https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/health/info-2021/nursing-homes-covid-vaccine-mandate.html

AARP. Track the Status of Nursing Home Visits in Your State.
https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/health/info-2020/nursing-home-visits-by-state.html

Sunrise Senior Living. Stop the Spread.
https://www.sunriseseniorliving.com/covid-19_stopthespread.aspx

Atria Senior Living. Protecting the health of our residents.
https://www.atriaseniorliving.com/atriasafetogether/

Pacifica Senior Living. COVID 19 FAQ.
https://www.pacificaseniorliving.com/covid-19-faq.aspxhttps://www.pacificaseniorliving.com/covid-19-faq.aspx

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage Among Adults — United States, December 14, 2020–May 22, 2021.
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7025e1.htm?s_cid=mm7025e1_w

Author
Joe Carney

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