Finally, there is good news for seniors amid the global pandemic. Because aging Americans are one of the most vulnerable populations, they will also be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after its approval. Below are some COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for Senior Care
The vaccine will be available to seniors residing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities first and to Americans 65 and up living at home shortly thereafter.
Just how effective is the vaccine? “Pfizer’s vaccine, produced in partnership with BioNTech, has an overall efficacy rate of 95% and efficacy of 94% in people 65 and older. Moderna’s overall efficacy is 94%, with 87% efficacy in preventing moderate disease in older adults,” CNN reports. Both vaccines may be approved in late December.
Currently, Pfizer and Moderna estimate that they will have 40 million doses to distribute before the end of the year. Each vaccine requires two doses. A COVID-19 panel hosted by the National Academy of Medicine and American Public Health Association (APHA) suggests that this will be enough to vaccinate all seniors in assisted living centers and nursing homes as well as frontline healthcare workers.
Even with a vaccine, it is absolutely critical for relatives, home care services, and medical personnel to treat the vulnerable senior population with extreme care and all due precautions. Here is what that looks like — down to the specifics. Use these frequently asked questions and examples of caregiving situations to navigate these tricky times.
Is it safe to visit seniors right now?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Unless the visit is absolutely necessary, it is safest to avoid visiting seniors altogether, especially seniors who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. If you must visit, try to meet senior relatives outdoors and maintain safe social distancing or remain at least six feet apart. Should indoor visits be unavoidable, keep them short, and wear a mask at all times. In general, it is wise to practice frequent hand washing and avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes whether you visit senior relatives or not.
Keeping visits to an absolute minimum helps reduce exposure to the virus and that, in turn, reduces risks of transmission. See below for tips about reducing loneliness and maintaining strong connections during this time.
How can you limit transmission in seniors’ homes?
If you do enter seniors’ homes, living space, and/or bedrooms, what are the best ways to reduce the likelihood of infection?
In addition to wearing a mask, wash your hands every 30 to 60 minutes you spend inside their living space or home. Regularly clean phones with an alcohol-based wipe, containing at least 70% alcohol. Avoid anyone who is not wearing a mask, and limit physical contact.
Arrange your visits carefully. Make sure to schedule visits only when senior relatives or patients — and only seniors — are present. Avoid doubling up on visits. Keep your social circle small and avoid large gatherings when you are not visiting your senior loved one. If you are visiting seniors in a nursing home, try to avoid the most popular visiting hours.
Is it necessary to sanitize groceries, household supplies, medical supplies, and packages?
According to The New York Times, germs from the virus may live on plastic and steel surfaces for up to three days. As for packages, germs are likely to linger for hours — if at all.
While seniors are significantly less likely to catch the virus from surface transmission than physical contact or droplets, “it can’t hurt to wipe down non-porous containers like glass or cans with disinfectant wipes,” Consumer Reports suggests. Use sanitized carts while at the grocery store, and wash fruit with warm water (and scrub fruit with skin!) when you get home. This may help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, and it will definitely remove harmful pesticides.
The virus does not survive long on cardboard. Pack away cardboard food packages after a few hours and leave packages in a safe spot outdoors for a few hours to be extra safe. After a few hours, there is little need to sanitize them.
What are some safe ways to keep connections strong?
Keeping in-person visits to an absolute minimum does not mean unnecessarily isolating your loved ones or jeopardizing your relationship with them. Get creative. There are plenty of ways to ensure relationships stay just as strong as ever. Consider:
- Scheduling video calls via computer or phone. Depending on how tech-savvy your senior relative may be, ask them to video chat with you using their computer or smartphone. Seeing your face often feels more personal than other methods of communication, like texting or emailing.
- Sending care packages or dropping off essentials. Wash your hands, and drop off letters, postcards, care packages, or groceries for seniors. If you choose to send care packages or drop off groceries, take the extra step to sanitize any solid items just in case.
- Talking on the phone. Many aging Americans are accustomed to using landlines and talking over the phone, so connecting this way will feel personal to them.
Can you catch the coronavirus from airborne particles?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not entirely clear. “The virus does not linger in the air at high enough levels to be a risk to most people who are not physically near an infected person,” The New York Times writes. However, if your senior patient or loved one is bedbound or sitting in a chair, it may be possible for lower-level aerosols to be of concern.
To be as cautious as possible, limit in-person visits, visit outside, and/or keep any visits that are indoors short and sweet. If you must visit indoors, rooms with greater air circulation pose less risk. For example, a wide, open room with high ceilings is much safer than a cramped, enclosed elevator.
This may not be the primary means of infection or transmission, but it is always best to be as careful as possible around vulnerable populations, including aging Americans.
Yes, it is absolutely necessary to take extra precautions around seniors now and even for months after effective vaccines become available. Follow the guidelines above to keep your loved ones or patients safe.
For more information, visit Special Touch Home Care’s caregiver questions about coronavirus resource page. Special Touch Home Care is located in New York, offering home health aide services and access to the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) to ensure proper and safe home care for loved ones.