As we approach the two-year mark of the battle against COVID 19,and with the Omicron variant now rampaging through our facilities and staff, the legitimate question is “When will this finally be over?” Barring divine intervention, the likely answer is that COVID, in some form or variant will become an annual, seasonal infection that all will have to navigate; similar to influenza, but more lethal.
The nursing home/senior living field has taken significant public flak for “allowing” so many residents to become infected, with the ensuing increases in resident mortality and need for hospitalization. Although staff compliance with strict adherence to infection prevention Best Practices is important, it is the physical plant environment within the senior care facilities that will need to be evaluated and modified, if we are to break the cycle of infection and re-infection plaguing today’s nursing homes.
COVID is an airborne virus. Typical present day SNFs were not designed to isolate airflow patterns between resident rooms, or in common areas. Thus, an infected residents’ respirations can be transmitted to other individuals through shared HVAC zones, despite any attempt at quarantine that might be imposed on COVID positive individuals.
Covenant Health Network has been working with companies that can conduct engineering and microbiologic testing, to determine both facility “hot zones” that allow cross transmission, as well as identifying safe zones where closer human contact/visitation is conducive. Generally, the findings have indicated that through relatively modest adjustment of air exchange vent louvers and the use of sensor placement/reporting, the senior facility can mitigate the potential for airborne viral transmission, thus reducing infection incidence and the need for non-infected resident isolation. Overall costs for such projects have proven to be remarkably affordable, given the severity of the problem and the continued price for non-action.
Covenant Health Networks’ Research Dept. is available to discuss COVID mitigation strategies as described, for facilities seeking a longer-term solution to the successful prevention and management of COVID and the variants that will inevitably follow in the foreseeable future.
For those post-acute workers who are manning the front lines in this battle to keep residents and staff virus-free, please accept our gratitude and admiration for your dedication, courage, and compassion. You are true heroes.