IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT – Here For You During COVID-19

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Consider visiting your loved ones in nursing homes by phone

"This is the greatest threat to nursing home residents that we have seen in many years, if not ever," a long-term care medicine specialist told NBC News.

It's the COVID-19 pandemic he was talking about, and it is putting nursing home residents at grave risk. The elderly are more likely than others to suffer serious complications from the coronavirus, and problems have already begun.

At Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, for example, at least 31 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 18 have died from the illness. Additionally, 11 other patients have died since the outbreak started and it is not clear if they had COVID-19, as well. For comparison, less than seven residents pass away in an ordinary month.

Nursing homes and regulators are taking protective action. While most visits aren't being curtailed yet, the governor of Washington announced that children are temporarily banned from nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

"If there is one single thing that matters most right now, it's that if someone has a fever or a cough or feels sick, do not visit a nursing home," said the long-term care specialist. "There should be no exceptions."

New guidelines meant to cut down the spread of the disease

Organizations including the American Health Care Association, the National Center for Assisted Living and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have recently released new guidelines for nursing homes.

While the guidelines are geared toward nursing homes, they can show us what to expect.

First, everyone should be screened for fever and respiratory symptoms. If you have any symptoms, you should not visit.

Similarly, if you have visited an affected country within 14 days or you live in a community where community-based spread is occurring, you should not visit a nursing home. The 14-day rule is because people might transmit the disease before they have symptoms.

The same goes for people who have been in contact within the last 14 days with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 .

Facilities will likely allow visitors who do not meet the above criteria. However, you may find yourself wearing personal protective equipment such as a mask to prevent any transmission from you to the residents. In addition, you may find yourself limited to certain areas of the facility.

The restrictions may not apply during end-of-life visits, or when a visitor's presence is considered necessary to the resident's health or wellbeing.

All in all, nursing homes are discouraging visitation during the outbreak. Consider calling your loved ones instead.

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