Statistical analysis underlies virtually everything we do, from estimating the number of Social Security checks that need to be mailed each month to how much fuel an airliner needs to take it from Japan to Turkey. Bottom line: We just can’t function without statistics. But statistics also haunt us these days, especially when it comes to calculating the human suffering that the COVID-19 virus has unleashed worldwide. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2 million Americans live in long-term care settings, including the nation’s approximately 28,900 assisted living communities and 15,600 federally regulated nursing homes. Together, this adds up to the possibility of a catastrophic outcome if senior living communities and skilled nursing facilities don’t exercise every option in their health and safety procedures. 

True, we don’t yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, and none of our existing pharmaceuticals have proven to be effective in combating the virus, but there are things we can do to mitigate the effects of this pandemic. Case in point: Disinfecting our facilities as often as we (practically) can.

First things first

In a recent article about  disinfecting the home, I pointed out that there is a big difference between disinfecting a room (or an office, kitchen, or store) and merely cleaning it. In practical terms, that means the difference between a place that just looks clean, as opposed to one that is truly free of contamination. Achieving a contamination-free site requires a lot of work. Here are some basic steps:

  • Individual rooms / suites

With social distancing protocols in place, there’s a good chance that the vast majority of the residents in your community spend a great deal of their time in their rooms or suites. Your cleaning staff (more about them later) should focus their attention on all of the rooms’ hard surfaces, tables, chairs, door handles, bed frames, window frames and ledges, the inside surface of the entryway door, and the floor.

The entire floor (or floors, in the case of suites) may be carpeted, which means that a wet-and-dry auto vacuum should be used. What’s more, the same appliance also can be used on an uncarpeted surface such as wood or linoleum. Just make sure that your cleaning crew uses the correct cleaning liquids.

And don’t forget the curtains and blinds, as well as televisions sets, remotes and laptops.

Finally, pay special attention to items such as bed linens, pillows, coverlets, duvets and clothing. With the exception of clothing that needs to be dry-cleaned, the rest of these items should be laundered as often as possible. Linens, sheets, coverlets and pillows ought to be washed in the highest water temperature possible and dried on as high a temperature as is practical.  

  • Bathrooms / showers

Whether such conveniences are shared or each room or suite has its own bathroom, these facilities should be cleaned at least once a day.  All of the hard surfaces should be disinfected, and that includes door handles, hand rails, toilets, toilet handles, towel racks, clothing hooks, light switches, mirrors, showers (especially drainage grates), bathtubs, window sills, faucets and shower heads. The walls and floors also should be disinfected thoroughly.

It’s also important that items such as washcloths, towels and bath floor mats are laundered on a regular basis. And none of these soft items should ever be shared by the residents, ever.

  • Sitting rooms / television rooms / libraries / communal areas

Even if you are enforcing social distancing rules, many of your residents may elect to use your facility’s communal areas. As such, these areas must be cleaned and disinfected as often as possible. Focus on those ‘high touch’ areas, such as door knobs, handles/handrails, tables, card tables, televisions, remotes, intercom systems (if any), couches, chairs, settees, laptops (especially those equipped with touchscreens), magazine/paper racks, vending machines, vases, picture frames, book cases, shelves, window frames and of course, exercise machines.

Remember that all the floors should be swept (or vacuumed) and any refuse removed before you begin the disinfection procedure. Whichever disinfectant you use, allow all of the wet surfaces to dry entirely before allowing residents back in.

  • Kitchens / food preparation areas

Many of your residents (especially in independent and assisted living communities) will have their own kitchens or food preparation areas, and these areas need special attention. The fact is that kitchens — and this applies equally to private kitchens as well as your communal food prep areas — are more likely to harbor bacteria than any location in your facility. 

That’s why it’s incumbent on you to ensure that all appliances, such as stoves, microwaves, refrigerators, freezers, toasters and dishwashers, are spotless. And that also applies to light fixtures, cabinets, pantries and food preparation surfaces. All of these items or areas should be painstakingly cleaned and systematically disinfected before and after each meal time. No exceptions!

Keeping you and your staff safe

The CDC has issued several useful guides and papers designed to help safely navigate this COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, its site provides detailed safety guidance in such areas as worker safety and support, retirement and independent living communities, schools and child care, colleges and universities, businesses and workplaces, gatherings and community events, community and faith-based organizations, and  correctional and detention facilities, among many others.

Plus, you also ca contact your county and state authorities for information regarding your locality’s specific regulations and guidelines for dealing with COVID-19. The national law firm Husch Blackwell also has a free online guide about assisted living-related regulations issued by each state.