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Senior living providers should follow the updated respiratory virus isolation recommendations issued Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to provider advocacy organizations. The agency said that the new recommendations offer “practical guidance” for non-healthcare community settings.

The CDC called its updated recommendations for community settings a “unified” approach that simplifies its guidance in addressing risks from a range of respiratory viral illnesses, including COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. There are no changes to respiratory virus guidance for healthcare settings such as nursing homes.

The guidance recommends that individuals stay home during active infections, take treatments to lessen COVID-19 and influenza symptoms and the risk of severe illness, and return to normal activities upon symptom improvement and being fever-free for at least 24 hours.

Upon resuming normal activities, individuals are encouraged by the guidance to adopt prevention strategies for the next five days to limit the spread of disease — including taking more steps for cleaner air, such as bringing in more fresh outside air, purifying indoor air or gathering outdoors; enhancing hygiene practices (covering coughs and sneezes, washing or sanitizing hands often and cleaning frequently touched surfaces); wearing a mask; maintaining distance from others; and getting tested for respiratory viruses.

Argentum said it welcomed the updated guidance, telling McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization and its state partners have had many interactions with the CDC on how assisted living and similar residences were not — and should not — be considered healthcare settings.

“Assisted living communities are the homes of seniors, and the dedicated professionals who manage these communities day in day out are best equipped to keep residents safe,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “We appreciate the open dialogue with CDC officials that will allow through this guidance the ability of our residents and their caregivers to take responsible measures to reduce the spread of this and similar viruses without resorting to physical and social isolation that had such a determinantal impact on residents, their families and the dedicated staff that provide high quality care every single day.”

Balda added that he appreciated the CDC recognizing the changing nature of the virus and the availability of treatments in allowing this flexibility.

The agency’s current guidelines encourage assisted living communities, group homes and other residential care settings that are not nursing homes to follow Friday’s updated recommendations, a spokesperson for the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living said. The guidelines issued Friday do not apply to healthcare settings such as nursing homes, for which separate recommendations exist.

“AHCA / NCAL will continue to support providers in all long-term and post-acute care settings to follow the CDC recommendations for infection prevention,” AHCA/NCAL Chief Medical Officer David Gifford, MD, MPH, said. “We’re encouraged that CDC continues to evaluate the impact of respiratory viruses on the community and evolve its guidance based on the data. Providers are making every effort to educate and encourage residents and staff to get vaccinated, as it is an effective form of protection and reduces hospitalizations and death from COVID-19.”

A spokeswoman for LeadingAge said that “[p]roviders serving older adults in non-healthcare settings of senior living communities will urge residents to abide by the new guidance. It’s critical that residents take all precautions to protect themselves and others in their communities — and, for continued defense, get a spring vaccine.”

Friday’s CDC announcement came two days after another announcement in which CDC Director Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, endorsed the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation that adults aged 65 or more years receive an additional updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine dose

“Most COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older,” she said. “An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection that may have decreased over time for those at highest risk.”

In its Friday announcement, the CDC indicated that the updates to the approach to respiratory viruses for the general public were made due to the changing circumstances around COVID-19 — namely, fewer hospitalizations and deaths — and the availability of vaccines and tools to combat flu, COVID and RSV.

“While it remains a threat, today it is far less likely to cause severe illness because of widespread immunity and improved tools to prevent and treat the disease,” the CDC’s announcement read. “Importantly, states and countries that have already adjusted recommended isolation times have not seen increased hospitalizations or deaths related to COVID-19.”

The agency also said that although all respiratory viruses do not act in the same way, adopting a unified approach to limiting disease spread makes recommendations easier to follow and more likely to be adopted without relying on individual testing.

“The bottom line is that when people follow these actionable recommendations to avoid getting sick, and to protect themselves and others if they do get sick, it will help limit the spread of respiratory viruses, and that will mean fewer people who experience severe illness,” said National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Demetre Daskalakis, MD, MPH.

As part of the guidance, the CDC also provided recommendations for prevention, including staying up to date on vaccinations, practicing good hygiene and taking steps for cleaner air. Prevention is important, according to the agency, because studies have shown that people aged more than 75 years are nine times as likely to die from COVID compared with people aged 18 to 39 years.

Additional considerations exist for people at higher risk of severe illness, including older adults and people with disabilities.

Assisted living has more flexibility

The CDC revised its COVID-19 infection prevention and control guidance for healthcare settings such as nursing homes in September, offering assisted living the option of following either the recommendations for COVID-19 healthcare settings or the more flexible congregate care setting recommendations. The ultimate decision comes down to how a state categorizes assisted living communities, the agency said at the time.

Senior living experts welcomed the revised guidance then, saying that it provided more flexibility for providers to respond to current local conditions.

The earlier guidance also indicated that, in general, long-term care settings, including assisted living communities where staff members provide non-skilled personal care, should follow community prevention strategies based on COVID-19 community transmission levels, similar to what independent living and other non-healthcare congregate settings do.