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After clusters of coronavirus deaths in U.S. nursing homes, what does it mean that Harris County has its first?

A worker from a Servpro disaster recovery team wearing a protective suit and respirator peers out a window as he waits to exit the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. for a break from cleaning the facility, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The nursing home is at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A worker from a Servpro disaster recovery team wearing a protective suit and respirator peers out a window as he waits to exit the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. for a break from cleaning the facility, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The nursing home is at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – Nursing homes in several U.S. states — Washington, Wyoming, Illinois and Oregon — have been the epicenter of clusters of coronavirus cases and deaths in the last few weeks. An elderly man became the first coronavirus-related death in Harris County, officials announced Thursday.

The man, between the ages of 80 and 90, was a resident of a northwest Harris County nursing home and was at “high risk” for serious COVID-19 complications due to his age and underlying health conditions, officials said. He was taken from the nursing home to a hospital for treatment and testing. His tests confirmed him to positive for coronavirus Wednesday but by nightfall,

Harris County health official, Dr. Umair Shah, said this man’s death was an indication that not only was coronavirus spreading through the community, it is also not a minor disease, especially for people who are high risk.

While Shah said there hadn’t been more positive tests among the people living at the man’s nursing home, local authorities were investigating further to ensure the residents remained safe and healthy.

Coronavirus has proven significantly more deadly among people older than 65 and as a result, a potential outbreak in a nursing home is a cause for concern. In fact, CNN reports a majority of the people in the United States who died from the virus were in their 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s. The youngest deaths were among people in their early or mid-50s.

What should nursing homes and visitors do?

In order to limit the spread of the deadly virus among the most vulnerable population in the country, the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality issued guidelines for nursing homes last week.

Some of those guidelines are:

  • Facilities should consider frequent monitoring for potential symptoms of respiratory infection as needed throughout the day.
  • Facilities experiencing an increased number of respiratory illnesses (regardless of suspected etiology) among patients/residents or healthcare personnel should immediately contact their local or state health department for further guidance.
  • Facilities should actively screen and restrict visitation by those who show signs or symptoms of respiratory infection — fever, cough, shortness of breath or sore throat
  • They should also screen for people who might have had contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus or traveled internationally in the last fortnight
  • Screen people who live in a community where community spread of the virus is occurring

The guidelines also suggest that people who don’t fit in the above categories should wear “personal protective equipment” like masks while visiting people in nursing homes.

Cutting off communication from friends and family members can be very difficult for people living in nursing homes. Recommendations suggest facilities develop alternative methods of communication for residents to be able to interact with people in the outside world.

See the full list of guidelines here.


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