Nursing homes continue to be high-risk areas for COVID-19, study finds

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Experts say keeping surfaces clean should be a priority in nursing homes

A new study conducted by researchers from Michigan Medicine explored the COVID-19 risks that are present in nursing homes. They explained that while most cases of the virus are transmitted from airborne particles, the virus can also be detected on contaminated surfaces in these places. 

“These data show that coronavirus is ubiquitous and persistent in the rooms of nursing home residents with COVID-19, and highlight the ongoing importance of rigorous cleaning and the protection of staff and visitors,” said researcher Dr. Lona Mody. 

Health risks in nursing homes

For the study, the researchers tested high-touch surfaces in four Michigan nursing homes from October 2020, through January 2021. In total, there were more than 2,000 samples taken from more than 100 rooms of patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that nearly 30% of the samples taken detected traces of COVID-19. The most commonly touched surfaces -- such as nurse call buttons, doorknobs, remote controls, and windowsills -- contained the highest traces of the virus. The virus was also more likely to be detectable when the patients were more mobile and active. 

The researchers explained that surfaces and areas outside of the patients’ rooms contained either no traces or very low traces of COVID-19. 

Cleaning and sanitizing must be reinforced

It’s also interesting to note that the researchers were unable to determine if the levels of the virus detected in patients’ rooms were enough to create an infection. However, the findings still point to the importance of ramping up cleaning and sanitizing efforts in nursing home residents’ rooms to ensure that the virus is undetectable to visitors and staff. 

“While the CDC notes that the risk of transmission via environmental contamination of SARS-CoV-2 is generally low, there are several factors which may increase this risk that are especially relevant in a nursing home setting,” the team wrote. “Nursing homes may have very high prevalence rates during outbreaks; mask wearing and hand hygiene may be inconsistent among nursing home patients with active infection; and the acuity of infections among nursing home patients may lead to increased viral shedding over what may be seen in the broader community. 

“For this reason, effective infection prevention and cleaning in nursing homes remains a priority during the times of SARS-CoV-2 circulation, particularly since wearing masks for prolonged periods of time may not be feasible for this population.” 

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