As nursing homes, assisted living communities and other long-term care settings across the country work overtime prepping to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) among its residents and staff, operators also are worrying about how the virus might tax a workforce that’s already understaffed.

David Gifford, M.D., MPH, chief medical officer at the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, has warned the nation’s long-term care operators that sick employees should stay at home, and he indicated that providers need to ensure a consequence-free environment for caregivers and other staff members who fall ill.

Long-term care facilities are on the front lines of the battle against the spreading coronavirus because many of their residents ― older adults with weaker immune and respiratory systems ― are at higher risk. As of Wednesday, more than 1,100 people in the United States have been sickened with the virus, and more than 30 have died.

In a Boston Globe article Tuesday, Rich Bane, president of BaneCare Management in Braintree, MA, which runs a dozen Massachusetts nursing homes, said that virus concerns “put stress on an already stressed system.”

“Nursing homes are used to providing good infection control,” he added. “But this could put another drop in a rain bucket that’s overflowing.”

In an effort to address concerns about a coronavirus outbreak and how it could affect business as usual at their centers if it occurred, Genesis Healthcare’s senior management team, clinical leadership and chief medical officer has been meeting regularly to discuss how it would be handled, according to Lori Mayer, a spokesperson for Genesis Healthcare. Although none of its facilities yet have been affected by the virus, “we are working to enhance employee, patient and visitor screenings and precautions in all centers, based on the [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and Department of Health requirements,” Mayer told McKnight’s.

A similar approach is underway at the assisted living, independent living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities operated by Brookdale Senior Living, said Heather Hunter, public relations manager. The company also does not have any residents who have confirmed cases of the virus.

“Brookdale’s number one priority is the health and safety of our residents, patients, and associates,” Hunter told McKnight’s. “Right now, our main focus is prevention. We are acting with an abundance of caution, reinforcing our policies and procedures for contagious illnesses such as influenza with staff, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, staying home when sick and taking flu antivirals as prescribed. We also have a corporate emergency response team in place to provide support to the local teams, especially in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19.”