5 Ways Home Care Agencies Can Prepare for the Coronavirus

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The coronavirus could pose a potential threat to our seniors. Here are ways that home care agencies can prepare for a potential mass outbreak.

Like it the old fashioned way?

So, have you stocked up on toilet paper and canned food yet?

Of course, there’s a lot more to understanding and preparing for the coronavirus than just stocking up for a long stay in your house—especially if you’re running a home care agency. No matter where you are, what media you’re following, or who you’re talking to, it’s almost impossible to escape hearing about COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

There’s also a great deal of mixed opinions and misinformation regarding the virus. As the owner of a business providing care to some of the individuals who are at a high risk in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, it’s important for you to stay educated, informed, and prepared.

We’ve pulled together some useful tips and sources for you here. It’s important to clarify that this article is not intended to take the place of research from established public health institutions, and we strongly recommend that you continue your own research through the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization, and OSHA. A list of good sources to start with is included at the end of this article.

How concerned should you be about the coronavirus?

You’ve probably heard various opinions about the virus and its potential impact. Many people have made comparisons to the flu, often in attempts to demonstrate that the coronavirus has been blown out of proportion.

There’s a wide spectrum of opinions related to the virus, and while the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, here are a few facts to keep in mind.

While the fatality rate for COVID-19 appears relatively low compared to other viruses such as Ebola that have caused scares in recent years, it’s significantly higher for at-risk populations including elderly people.

A common refrain in discussions about the coronavirus is its relatively low fatality rate compared to other virus outbreaks that have gotten headlines over the last ten years.

While there is truth to this, these discussions often fail to take into account the fact that seniors and other at-risk populations, including small children, pregnant women, and the chronically ill, are at much higher risk of fatality than the general population. Current estimates for fatality rates in seniors with COVID-19 range from 8-10%, sometimes reaching as high as 15% for elderly at-risk populations.

In other words, whether or not a healthy adult feels concerned about their chances of fatality if they contracted the coronavirus, they owe it to more vulnerable populations (to whom they might spread the virus) to get educated and take proper precautions.

See comparisons of fatality rates for various age groups here.

The coronavirus is almost twice as infectious as the flu.

The probability of an infected person transmitting a disease is measured by its basic reproduction number, or R0. (Pronounced R-naught.) The R0 for the coronavirus is estimated at 2.2, meaning a single infected person will infect 2 other people on average, while the flu has an R0 of 1.3. (3)

Part of this may be due to the fact that individuals infected with the coronavirus can be contagious for a significant amount of time before symptoms become visible.

A reasonable conclusion to draw from these facts is that the coronavirus has the potential to disproportionately impact our senior population due to its increased infection rate.

How should you be preparing?

There are various ways to prepare your caregivers for a coronavirus outbreak. We’ll detail a few here, but it’s still important to do your own research from recognized public health institutions. Most of these tips come back to educating your caregivers.

It’s also important to note that most of these are general best practices that should be observed at all times, rather than just in the event of a pandemic. Perhaps one silver lining of the coronavirus epidemic may be an increased focus on best practices relating to protecting our seniors from infectious diseases.

#1: Educate your caregivers on how handwashing can prevent the spread of coronavirus.

While educating caregivers on preventing the spread of infectious diseases is always essential, it’s of special importance while the coronavirus is spreading. Caregiver education might be the most important way that home care agencies can prepare for the coronavirus, as caregivers are both the first line of defense for your clients and one of the most likely ways that your clients could potentially be infected with the coronavirus.

One of the most critical topics for education is handwashing. Caregivers need to be reminded of the importance of washing their hands frequently both at work and outside of work. In addition to retraining on proper handwashing, we recommend sending out regular reminders through text or care apps to keep it top of mind for caregivers.

Click here to download a free 30-minute training from In the Know Caregiver Training helping caregivers understand COVID-19 and the infection control precautions they should take. In the Know, which recently merged with Home Care Pulse, also offers an extensive library of caregiver training courses on topics that include general infection control and handwashing.

#2: Be vigilant about helping your clients receive needed medical help, whether or not coronavirus is the likely diagnosis.

You can read about the symptoms of COVID-19 here. Note that as its symptoms are very similar to the flu, it’s more effective simply to train your caregivers to be vigilant in helping seniors seek medical help for any potential sickness, rather than attempting to identify coronavirus.

#3: Ensure that your caregivers are fully able to stay home if they’re sick.

Disease outbreaks are often amplified because workers, especially care workers, feel pressure to continue working even when they’re showing symptoms. Agencies need to counter this by offering paid sick leave (at least while the coronavirus remains a public health risk) in accordance with public health standards. With the number of caregivers who live paycheck-to-paycheck or are in difficult financial situations, this means offering paid sick time whenever possible to remove the incentive to work while they’re infectious if they’re trying to stay ahead of financial obligations.

#4: Ensure that your clients will have access to necessary medications in the event of quarantine or home isolation.

If the rising prices of toilet paper stocks are any indicator, most of us don’t need reminders of the importance of stocking up on the basics. There’s less talk, however, of ensuring that those in need of medication are prepared for isolation.

While the possibilities for quarantine and isolation are too dependent on the size and scope of the actual outbreak to make any credible predictions yet, it’s possible that individuals on medications may face difficulties unless they plan ahead. Dr. Nancy Messonier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, has emphasized in recent interviews that seniors and others who take medications to manage chronic conditions should make sure that they have adequate supplies on hand.

#5: Avoid panic and misinformation by following credible sources.

While most experts agree that the coronavirus poses a real threat, it has yet to break out at a scale that would affect any large portion of the population; it’s important to keep things in perspective and stay informed. Proper preparation and thorough education are powerful tools in combating the spread of diseases.

To keep your information accurate, seek regular updates on the status of the coronavirus outbreak from established sources like those mentioned above: the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and academic institutions. While the information provided by major news networks is usually reliable, they sometimes fail to provide the full context necessary to fully understand complex issues.

Click here to download a free 30-minute training, “Understanding Coronavirus,” from In the Know Caregiver Training.

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