Older people remain at heightened risk from COVID-19, and long-term care professionals are tasked with diligent use of protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients.
According to recent data, mortality rates attributed to the coronavirus increase almost exponentially with age. A research paper published in Lancet Infectious Diseases indicates that COVID-19 deaths increase with age along the following curve.
- 40-Somethings – 0.3 percent
- 50-Somethings – 1.25 percent
- 60-Somethings – 4 percent
- 70-Somethings – 8.6 percent
- 80-Somethings – 13.4 percent
These estimates have researchers and health care professionals scrambling to understand the pathogen, find cures, and implement safeguards. Many in the medical and long-term care industries have hung their hat on the fact that older people typically have more underlying conditions and weakened immune systems. The increased risk is not necessarily purely a matter of age, it’s a matter of vulnerability to the contagion.
One of the challenges to implementing long-term care protections stems from the fact patients, and caregivers collaborate in a wide range of environments. Although proactive health and safety measures require the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), there are essential differences to account for if workers and patients are to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long-Term Care in Independent Living Settings
Not all of our valued elders require 24-7 health care monitoring. As seniors like to say, “60 is the new 40.” People are generally living longer and healthier lives well into their 70s and 80s. Elders are also enjoying a more robust quality of life with only modest assistance.
Professionals working in independent living communities range from full-time staff to part-timers, as well as a variety of independent contractors. The risks of bringing in or contracting the virus in a complex must be managed with strategic use of PPE that fits worker responsibilities. These include the following.
- Health Monitoring & Routine Checkups
- Housekeeping & Laundry
- Food Preparation & Service
- Administering Medication
- Reception & Office Duties
- Visitation Oversight
Because this demographic of older folks tends to be relatively healthy and outgoing, less one-on-one interactions are generally required. For example, food service can occur in living spaces or dining halls with appropriate social distancing guidelines being observed. There are also fewer needs for injections than pill-form medications. Professional caregivers in independent living communities can engage in safe social distancing at a greater rate than facilities with seriously health-impacted residents. However, protective clothing and other PPE will be necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Nursing Homes Pose Increased COVID-19 Health Risk
Older community members with significant underlying health conditions benefit from the 24-7 supervision offered in the nursing home system. Long-term care professionals typically provide services in close proximity to patients. These include three meals daily, assistance with dressing, bathing, laundry, and administering medication, among others.
Although these facilities are subject to rigorous and ongoing government oversight, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) flagged them for high rates of infection even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The health organization reports that more than 4 million Americans are admitted, live in nursing homes, or some form of assisted living. Data compiled by the CDC points to these troubling statistics.
- Upwards of 3 million infections are reported in facilities annually.
- Common conditions include staph infections and urinary tract infections, among others.
- Long-term health care facility infections result in approximately 380,000 deaths each year.
The spread of COVID-19 has caused spikes in infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths in nursing home facilities worldwide. Ranked among the primary concerns for health care professionals and residents is human traffic in and out of nursing homes, as well as the fact caregiving involves close quarters interaction and physical contact.
Home-Based Services Present COVID-19 Challenge
Long-term health care for home-based patients poses a substantial logistical challenge for professionals, loved ones, and patients alike. These services routinely include wellness checkups, administering medication, housekeeping, bathing, dressing, and physical therapy, among others. The care provided tends to bring together a mix of niche professionals that manage different responsibilities. These may include the following.
- Homemaker & Personal Care Providers
- Visitor & Companion Services
- Senior Transportation Services
- Medical & Emergency Services
- Long-Term Financial Planning Consultants
Home-based care tends to include housekeepers, nurses, therapists, and support services. These services, therefore, call for multiple people entering and exiting a living space to perform essential duties. Given how easily COVID-19 spreads through direct contact, coughing, and its prolonged life expectancy on hard surfaces, home-based care ranks among the riskier forms of long-term care for professionals and patients.
PPE Safety Recommendations for Long-Term Care Professionals
As essential health care professionals work through the pandemic, it’s critical to keep in mind that everyone remains at risk. Although our valued elders tend to have a greater degree of underlying conditions that make them vulnerable, young professionals are not immune. According to reports, people 20 to 29 years old are three times more likely to die from contracting COVID-19 than seasonal influenza. These are protective clothing and PPE accessories long-term health care workers are advised to wear.
- Gowns: This type of protective clothing protects against fluid splatter and ranks among the recommended kinds of PPE worn when interacting in close proximity to patients. The gown can be particularly useful when patients require bathing and personal hygiene care, among others. The CDC ranks gowns as a minimal necessary product.
- Disposable Scrubs: When making wellness checks, administering medication, and other close-quarters interactions with long-term care facility residents, disposable scrubs rank among industry-standard protective clothing options.
- Disposable Gloves: The CDC strongly urges health care industry workers and other sectors to adorn nonsterile disposable gloves when entering a facility or private residence. These PPE products should be appropriately discarded when exiting to prevent contact spreads of COVID-19.
- Disposable Coveralls: This protective clothing product provides among the most comprehensive contact protection against COVID-19. Facilities would be well-served to have a supply for housekeeping, nurses, food preparation, and other service providers. When used with accessories such as disposable gloves and masks, coveralls deliver determined protection.
- Respirators and Masks: The CDC recommends that N95 respirators are worn any place of known or suspected COVID-19 infection. Surgical masks and others can prove useful when these are unavailable. Covering the nose and mouth are critical to prevent the spread of the pathogen in long-term settings.
The CDC and other health organizations advise health care workers to wash their hands before and after putting on gloves with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds. Otherwise, use a hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of 60 percent or higher. Housekeeping and other professional prone to hard surface contact are advised to use commercial or approved household cleaners to disinfect spaces thoroughly.
Curbing the spread and remaining safe during the pandemic requires long-term health care professionals to employ heightened vigilance regarding protective clothing, sanitization, and PPE accessories. To quell the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers such as International Enviroguard are filling protective clothing product orders at an accelerated rate.