Indiana nursing homes prepare as experts warn of increase in COVID-19 cases this fall


INDIANAPOLIS — Health experts warn we could see an increase in COVID-19 cases this fall as the pandemic merges with flu season, and Indiana nursing homes are already preparing to protect the most vulnerable population.

COVID-19 deaths linked to long-term care centers now make up nearly 60% of Indiana’s total. On May 2, the 7-day moving average for positive cases in these facilities was more than 150 cases. That is when the average hit its peak, and it has drastically improved since then. On September 8, that average was at 24 cases, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard for long-term care.

Victoria Shumaker’s 70-year-old mother lives at Otterbein in Franklin, where at least 20 residents have passed away from coronavirus, according to the state’s dashboard on Thursday.

“They are testing every week, and what they do now is they actually send out a daily email from the facility to show where their status is,” she said. 

Her mom lives on the assisted living side, and the facility places her in quarantine every time she leaves the campus.

“They are very proactive about trying to keep the spread down,” she said. “I just think it is affecting maybe her mental health.”

There is an extra focus on how centers will keep residents healthy in the fall when flu season begins. The Indiana Health Care Association represents these facilities, and its president Zachary Cattell said the centers are in a much better position now than they were in the spring.

“It is about continuing the vigilance of screening procedures, following infection control protocol that has been set out the last few months and obtaining enough PPE,” Cattell said.

The Indiana Health Care Association said centers have a pretty good supply of PPE, although there are still facilities that have low stock of N-95 masks.

He explained one worry is more people in the community will congregate when it gets colder, and he’s also concerned about the possibility of confusing flu cases with COVID-19 since the symptoms may be similar.

“To treat influenza like COVID is going to tax our resources more quickly, so we have got to identify better and quickly,” he said.

The Indiana Health Care Association has been working with the Indiana State Department of Health on instituting a mandatory vaccine campaign so healthcare workers are getting their flu vaccine. Cattell explained roughly 90% of long-term care residents in Indiana receive a flu vaccine, and shots will most likely be administered at the centers.

“If someone gets that flu shot, it’s much more likely if they have symptoms that it could be COVID rather than the flu,” he said.

Indiana facilities are feeling confident right now as health experts warn this fall and winter will not be easy.

“Those that fund and regulate that I know, they are keeping these things in mind and to make sure we continue to be the top priority in the healthcare system,” he said.

The Indiana Health Care Association expects indoor visitation will continue, but facilities will work to control the flow of people in and out of the building.

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