Early detection, education and training, as well as consistent implementation of infection prevention and control policies are necessary to protect the mental and physical health of residents and staff members of assisted living communities and other long-term care and congregate living settings, according to updated guidance released Friday by the World Health Organization.

“Compassionate, respectful, people-centered care should be provided consistently, while ensuring adequate protection of residents, visitors and staff from COVID-19,” states the guidance, meant to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering long-term care facilities and support safe visitation.

COVID-19 infection prevention and control efforts are among the senior living-related areas that Argentum expects the new Congress to take on this year. Assisted living operators also cited infection prevention and control among their top challenges for 2020 and 2021, according to an Argentum survey

Evidence, the WHO states, shows that consistent and rigorous implementation of infection prevention and control policies and measures significantly reduces the risk of SARS-Co-V-2 infection in residents and staff.

The most effective interventions to prevent the control and spread of the virus in long-term care communities, according to the guidance, include:

  • Screening and testing of residents, staff members and visitors;
  • Adequate personal protective equipment;
  • Cohorting of employees and residents;
  • Paid, mandatory sick leave;
  • Physical distancing, masks and hand hygiene;
  • Isolation of people who test positive;
  • Routine disinfection of surfaces;
  • Adequate ventilation; and
  • Adequate staffing.

The WHO further recommends that operators communicate the existence of positive cases to local and regional health authorities, avoid using temporary workers, vaccinate staff and residents, and educate staff, residents and visitors on the importance of hand-washing, mask-wearing and physical distancing. 

“It is important that anyone eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine receives all recommended doses at the recommended interval,” the guidance reads. “It is also vital that staff, caregivers and residents continue to adhere to precautions to minimize the spread of infection while more data become available on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.”

Given the magnitude of the effect of COVID-19 in assisted living and other congregate facilities, the WHO issued a policy brief in July about preventing and managing the virus across long-term care services. The brief advocates modifying services so they are integrated as part of the continuum of care, ensuring that residents receive “quality, equitable and sustainable care.” 

That policy brief also recommends establishing a coordinated response between healthcare and long-term care systems, supporting unregulated providers, and monitoring implementation measures in long-term care settings to ensure that residents receive comprehensive care.

Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, was a member of the external peer view group involved with the guidance.