Children and people living in long-term care or skilled nursing facilities are groups with unique needs during the COVID-19 epidemic. UPMC experts today briefed media on how the health system is prepared to provide the best possible care to these populations.
“Preparing for an emerging infectious disease is something UPMC has a lot of experience with,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC. “We have solid plans in place to care for patients with concerning infections.”
COVID-19 is the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a new type of coronavirus responsible for over 100,000 infections worldwide and more than 3,000 deaths. Cases have been reported in more than half the states in the U.S., including Pennsylvania. There currently are no cases at any UPMC facility.
The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, such as lung or heart disease, seem to be particularly susceptible to COVID-19, and the majority of U.S. deaths have been among residents of a nursing home in suburban Seattle.
Dr. David A. Nace, chief medical officer for UPMC Senior Communities, which provide secure and friendly surroundings to nearly 3,000 older adults in more than 30 facilities throughout the region, said UPMC has proper infection control protocols in place and has educated the staff of UPMC’s long-term care and skilled nursing facilities about proper personal protective equipment to use to safely care for any COVID-19 patients.
Nace also is president-elect of AMDA, The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. He directed the development of AMDA’s Guidance on COVID-19 in Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Settings, which is being shared with facilities nationwide and adopted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their guidance to these facilities.
“I would like to ask the public not to visit their loved ones in person at long-term care and skilled nursing facilities if they are ill or have cold symptoms, even relatively mild ones,” Nace said. “This will help us avoid accidentally spreading not only COVID-19, but any of the many respiratory viruses currently circulating in our communities to our vulnerable elderly population.”
While the elderly are particularly susceptible to complications from COVID-19, children seem far less so — but they are still an important group to pay attention to during the COVID-19 outbreak, said Dr. John Williams, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. While some infectious diseases, like flu, can strike children harder than healthy adults, that does not seem to be the case so far with COVID-19, he said. Symptoms seem milder in children, though much is still unknown — such as whether a larger proportion of children are getting COVID-19 and not being diagnosed because they are asymptomatic.
“What we do know about infectious diseases and children — and suspect is the case with COVID-19 — is that children are very good at sharing infections, particularly when they aren’t feeling very sick and are able to run around and play while infected,” said Williams.
He asked that parents and caregivers help slow the spread of infection by:
Practicing good hand hygiene: Help children use soap and water to wash hands for 20 seconds — enough time to sing Happy Birthday twice or the ABC song. Hand sanitizer gel also works and is more portable. Wash hands often — every time we cough or sneeze or use the bathroom and before eating or after touching frequently touched surfaces, like communal playground equipment and toys.
Teaching children to cover their mouths when sneezing and coughing: Many illnesses are transmitted by droplets, which travel through the air for a few feet each time we cough or sneeze. Show children how to cough into their elbow or use a tissue and throw it away. If they cough or sneeze into their hands, help them wash their hands.
Keeping children home when they are sick: If children have a fever, they should be kept home and should not return to school or daycare until they are 24 hours fever-free without fever-reducing medications, such as Tylenol. Caregivers can consult a health care provider while keeping children home by using UPMC AnywhereCare or UPMC’s ChildrensPgh app, which has a “Save My Spot” option for Children’s Express Care This service helps keep families from having to wait in a crowded waiting room and can cut down on exposure to other sick children.
“Doing these things is not only important for COVID-19, but also for stopping the spread of flu and other respiratory viruses that are circulating in our community,” Williams said. “We appreciate the support of our patients and their families in helping to stop the spread of these infections.”