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Infection Prevention: Suggestions to Keep Your Community Germ-Free


Infection prevention and control is one of the most important aspects of senior living. As our population ages, the risk of infection increases, so it is important to have systems in place that protect our residents from illnesses and keep them healthy.

Every day, additional information becomes available and provides guidelines for effective infection prevention and control. Many communities already have a communicable disease plan in place, and additional actions may be necessary to reduce the spread of germs.

Current State of COVID-19

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of Jan. 5, 2023, there were 628 (19.5%) counties, districts, or territories with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 1,351 (41.9%) with a medium Community Level, and 1,241 (38.5%) with a low Community Level.

Compared with the previous week, the number of counties, districts, or territories in the high level increased by 10.6%, in the medium level increased by 1.8%, and in the low level decreased by 12.4%.

Overall, 49 out of 52 jurisdictions had high- or medium-level counties this week. Hawaii, Maine, and Wyoming are the only jurisdictions to have all counties at low Community Levels.

Current State of Influenza

Currently, the CDC is reporting that seasonal influenza activity remains high but continues to decline in most areas. Of influenza A viruses detected and subtyped during week 52, 70% were influenza A(H3N2) and 30% were influenza A(H1N1). CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 22 million illnesses, 230,000 hospitalizations, and 14,000 deaths from flu.

The cumulative hospitalization rate in the FluSurv-NET system was 3.5 times higher than the highest cumulative in-season hospitalization rate observed for week 52 during previous seasons going back to 2010-2011. However, this in-season rate is still lower than end-of-season hospitalization rates for all but four pre-COVID-19-pandemic seasons going back to 2010-2011.

The majority of influenza viruses tested are in the same genetic subclade as and antigenically similar to the influenza viruses included in this season’s influenza vaccine. All viruses collected and evaluated this season have been susceptible to the influenza antivirals oseltamivir, peramivir, zanamivir, and baloxavir.

Individual Preventive Steps to Stop the Spread of Germs in Your Community

According to the CDC, there are certain precautions you can take every day that will help reduce the spread of infections among staff and residents in your communities including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home and limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with viruses. It is vital to disinfect surfaces by using chemical disinfectants to remove dirt and impurities from surfaces. To most effectively reduce the risk of spreading infection, surfaces must first be cleaned and then disinfected.
  • For the flu, the CDC recommends that people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Fever should be gone without the need to use a fever-reducing medicine. Note that the stay-at-home guidance for COVID-19 is slightly different.

Evaluate Your Communities
In addition to taking individual precaution, it is important to review each individual community to better understand and gauge where the greatest potential for spreading infection might be. Many viruses are introduced into communities through employees and visitors. Because of this, it is important to place special attention on particularly vulnerable areas of senior living communities including, but not limited to:

  • Entry and exit points
  • Heavily trafficked areas
  • Common spaces and dining facilities
  • High-touch surfaces such as door handles, communal electronics, and furniture

By understanding the points where a community is most vulnerable, communities will be able to develop the most effective responses.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Wearing personal PPE is among the most effective methods of controlling infection. Use of PPE is called source control, and it prevents spread of respiratory secretions when talking, sneezing, or coughing. Winter viruses are most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, so by proactively having your staff use PPE will help protect your community.

Disinfection Procedures
COVID-19, known medically as SARS-CoV-2, is classified as an enveloped virus. Luckily, enveloped viruses are the least resistant to inactivation by disinfection. The structure of these viruses includes a lipid envelope, which is easily compromised by most disinfectants.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created “List N,” which outlines effective disinfectants for use against COVID-19. This exhaustive list includes common household disinfecting cleaners, disinfecting wipes, and industrial-grade disinfectants for use by larger facilities. While many varieties of disinfectants are used by senior living communities, the naturally produced chemical hypochlorous joins the list of disinfectants being used in innovative ways.

Air Quality is Key

Older adults are increasingly susceptible to health risks associated with poor air quality. Regularly cleaning a community’s air filtration system is a must for residents’ overall health. Many communities, even before the pandemic, were upgrading their filtration system to better capture particulates of pathogens in the air, reducing the spread of viral communicative diseases. Below are three strategies to help improve indoor air quality:

  • Improve existing ventilation systems. Increasing the outdoor air percentage when needed, installing higher MERV-rated in-duct filtration systems, and increasing air change rate can help existing ventilation systems effectively deliver cleaner air.
  • Install portable air purifiers. Many portable air purifiers have been tested to effectively filter pollutants and some can also deactivate and trap airborne viruses and bacteria.
  • Install indoor air quality monitors. Indoor air quality monitors help give operators and residents the opportunity to be proactive as they can track pollution and other air quality parameters in real time. Monitors also provide residents with the peace of mind that the community is safe.

Knowledge is the first line of defense in protecting against COVID-19. Communities regularly update and remind staff and residents about COVID-19 information, including signs and symptoms, social distancing, hand hygiene and proper disinfecting procedures. Regardless of the size of the community or levels of care offered, every senior living community is hyper-focused on controlling the spread of COVID-19 and future viral threats.

For additional information on how you can prevent or reduce an outbreak in your communities, visit the CDC website at