Coronavirus and Nursing Homes: Basics of Infection Control for Families

Written by Valarie Jarvis, RN, BSN

When you think of Coronavirus you may not immediately think of the risk to nursing homes however residents within the nursing home and assisted living settings are at great risk. Many of these seniors have chronic illnesses leading to very weak immune systems. They tend to live in small quarters and share common areas such as dining rooms. Along with chronic diseases, many of these residents have cognitive and/ or physical deficits that prevent them from following recommended protective practices such as covering their mouth when they sneeze or cough. These factors make any contagious illness hard to contain; however, there are general things to look for and ask to see how well a facility is prepared.

Every facility is required to have infection control policies and procedures to protect residents from transmittable or communicable illnesses to include the flu and the novel Coronavirus, etc. This would include monitoring and tracking many types of infections via incidence and location within the facility. Ideally facilities should have in place procedures to prevent respiratory germs from entering the facility, preventing the spread of respiratory disease within the facility and to prevent spread of respiratory germs from spreading between facilities( skilled facility to hospital or other care setting whenever possible.) Listed below are some things that you should expect to see as a part of the infection control program.

  • Signs posted at the entrance of the facility regarding illness and visitation. If you have respiratory symptoms you will likely be asked to limit or postpone visiting to protect those with weak immune symptoms.

  • Hand sanitizer station set up at the entrance. All guests and staff should perform hand hygiene upon arrival as a prevention measure.

  • Staff should perform hand hygiene (handwashing or using hand sanitizer) between caring for each resident. If you are visiting and do not see this practice it is ok to ask staff to wash their hands prior to working with your loved one.

  • If a resident develops an illness that falls in a category that requires isolation you should see a sign at the room door area that indicates the type of isolation. Staff would then protect themselves accordingly by wearing protective outer wear known as personal protective equipment or PPE. Depending on the illness, isolation requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) may vary to include: face mask, nonpermeable gown, gloves, safety goggles to protect eyes, and shoe covers. Staff will tend to use disposable equipment (blood pressure cuff, thermometer, stethoscope, etc.) if applicable and disposable meal trays and utensils during this period.

  • If your loved one is on isolation you should be asked to and it is recommended that you wear the personal protective equipment (PPE) when visiting. It is important to protect yourself and prevent potential spread to others in your home and the overall community.

  • Residents of a facility with the same illness are likely to be cohorted together in the same area to contain further spread of infection when possible. At times may cohort and have the same staff working with this group as another measure to contain the spread.

  • Sick staff are recommended to stay home. Again, this prevents spread of sickness to those in the facility with weak immune systems.

  • Housekeeping staff should be cleaning and sanitizing frequently to include frequently used doorhandles, hand rails, etc.

The latest information regarding Covid-19 is being updated frequently as the medical community learns more about the virus.

For more information or to ask questions I can be contacted via email at or

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