Statement from Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan on Long Term Care Facilities:
Health Commissioner’s Statement on Long Term Care Facilities
(April 9, 2020) – The cases and deaths of COVID-19 that occurred in a long term care (LTC) facility in Washington State in February signaled the arrival of this virus in the United States and highlighted that our most vulnerable, and some could argue, most sheltered citizens are at risk for this novel virus. Since that time, public health and health professionals in general have been recommending and implementing mechanisms we can use to reduce the risk of exposure to long term care residents. Early on LTC facilities adopted the no visitation, no entertainment or communal activities and have been monitoring staff for signs of infection.
However, the COVID-19 virus is extraordinarily infectious. Experts estimate this virus is three times as infectious as influenza. Part of the reason for this is because this virus is transmitted via an ultrafine mist, which remains suspended in the air for up to three hours after talking. In addition, this virus can live on surfaces for hours up to 72 hours depending on the surface. So it is believed even touching something an infected person recently touched could cause another to become infected. Finally, we know people who are asymptomatic can spread the disease, and those who do develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others up to 48 hours before the development of symptoms.
All of this highlights how difficult it is to contain this infection, including inside places we typically would feel to be somewhat isolated. Unfortunately, significant numbers of LTC facilities across the nation and the patients they serve, as well as the healthcare workers who provide care, are being impacted by this virus. Furthering the concern, older folks and those with chronic health conditions are the most vulnerable to severe cases and bad outcomes with this disease. According to Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and its Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, “I think [COVID-19 is] more transmissible than we recognize, and actually preventing it from spreading within nursing homes is an extraordinary feat.”
Allen County is not immune to this phenomenon as we have also had cases in LTC facilities. We are working closely with the facilities and the Indiana State Department of Health to minimize the risk to residents and staff. We have experienced great cooperation with everyone thus far. Unfortunately, we will likely continue to experience cases in communal living as this virus works its way through our community, and we will continue to rely on a these strong partnerships to protect the health and well-being of all Allen County residents.
Deborah McMahan, MD
April 9, 2020