With Maine confirming its first 12 cases of the new coronavirus that’s quickly spreading across the globe, the state’s elderly care facilities are changing protocols and staying vigilant to keep residents safe.
More than 90 countries have confirmed cases of COVID-19, as the new coronavirus is called, including the United States, which had approximately 423 cases as of Monday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Threats of coronavirus coming to the Northeast are particularly worrisome for Maine’s elderly population, who are some of the most at-risk for contracting the disease.
More than 260,000 people older than 65 live in Maine and make up more than 20 percent of the state’s population, according to U.S. census data.
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Long-term care facilities around the state are trying to get ahead of the illness by limiting exposure and stocking up on protective gear such as masks and gowns. They also are encouraging visitors, staff and residents to use hand sanitizer frequently to prevent the virus from entering their campuses.
On Sunday, March the Washington state Department of Health reported a total of 136 cases in the state, including 19 deaths, The Seattle Times reports. Sixteen of those had been associated with the Life Care Center, where more than a dozen residents died after testing positive for the illness.
In the Bangor area, nursing homes are taking caution by following the CDC’s guidelines on dealing with the virus in long-term care facilities. At the Orono Commons nursing home, all visitors have to undergo a screening questionnaire before entering the facility and seeing loved ones.
The screening asks if visitors have traveled to countries with outbreaks recently, if they’ve encountered people known to have the virus or if they show symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.
As of Monday, March 9, the agency was recommending that long-term care facilities consider establishing one point of entry to screen more people before they can go inside the building, said Danielle Watford, Maine Health Care Association’s director of Quality Improvement and Regulatory Affairs.
The association is the state’s affiliate of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living. It is made up of about 200 long-term and residential care facilities in Maine.
Watford said that the association has updated its own procedures for dealing with coronavirus, such as encouraging facilities to review their emergency protocols to specifically address the illness. It also recommends facilities take stock of their supplies — like masks — to prepare for possible shortages, should the virus come to Maine.
Infection control is not something new to long-term residential care facilities, although “there’s “a lot more emphasis right now,” association president and CEO Rick Erb said Monday.
While facilities are beginning to screen their visitors, they aren’t prohibiting people from visiting their loved ones at the moment.
“It certainly is possible but we’re not at that stage now,” Erb said.
Erb and Watford encouraged people to be prepared to use other methods of communication to connect with their loved ones in residential facilities should the virus reach Maine.