Controlling community spread of COVID-19 is essential to protecting nursing home residents

Nursing home staff heroically fight each day to protect our elderly and frail residents, but we cannot do it alone.

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“Leading experts agree that community spread is the top predictor of nursing home outbreaks,” writes Pam Comstock of the Health Care Council of Illinois.


In a recent Sun-Times article by Frank Main and Caroline Hurley, an attorney who stands to profit from this pandemic accused the nursing home industry of being unprepared to deal with the coronavirus.

It’s true that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was unclear to nursing homes — and to everyone else — what steps needed to be taken to keep coronavirus out and treat those who contracted the disease. Along with the confusion and guidance that evolved daily, our nursing home residents and staff were immediately at risk due to the very nature of our high-touch care, congregate settings and medically fragile population.

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Thanks to our dedicated staff members and an ongoing partnership with public health officials, tremendous progress has been made. In fact, between July and the latest surge in mid-October, nursing homes steadily represented just 2 to 3 percent of all new cases in Illinois.

We regularly test residents and staff, screen employees daily, don PPE and keep residents distanced from each other and the outside world. And yet even those measures are not enough to prevent asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic essential workers from unknowingly introducing the virus in our long-term care facilities.

Leading experts (Johns Hopkins and Harvard) agree that community spread is the top predictor of nursing home outbreaks. The University of Chicago’s Tamara Konetzka, a nationally recognized expert on long-term care, recently said, “Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle.”

The lives lost from COVID-19 have been heartbreaking and we grieve with each family that has lost a loved one. Nursing home staff continue to heroically fight each day to protect our elderly and frail residents, including thousands of Illinois nursing homes residents who we nursed back to health. But we cannot do it alone.

Please wear a mask and stay home if you can to stop the snowball spread that ultimately lands at our doorstep. Do it for your parents and grandparents who are counting on you to help stop this pandemic. While nobody was prepared for this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, each of us can make a life-saving difference for seniors.

Pat Comstock
Health Care Council of Illinois
COVID-19 Response Director

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