Sarah Reisetter

Officials are advising Iowa nursing homes to take additional steps to protect residents and staff. COVID-19 outbreaks have been confirmed in nursing homes in Linn, Washington, and Tama Counties.

Sarah Reisetter, the deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says all Iowa nursing homes have been encouraged to screen every resident for fever and cough or breathing problems daily.

“If residents do become ill, those residents may worsen on day 7 to 8 of their symptoms,” Reisetter says.

Every Iowa nursing home is urged to have a plan for who to call and how to transfer a resident who needs hospital care. Reisetter says there are new guidelines for nursing home staff, too.

“We are asking employees to use face masks and eye protection at all times for all resident care,” Reisetter says. “…We’ve asked them to consider gown and glove use at all times for all resident care to the extent the (personal protective equipment) is available, but certainly at facilities where outbreaks are being experienced.”

No visitors have been allowed inside Iowa nursing homes since March 10th, unless it’s an ‘end of life’ circumstance for a resident that’s not related to COVID-19. All staff must have their temperature taken at the beginning and end of their shifts.

“We’ve asked them to identify any other health care facilities where staff work, including recommendations that staff not work in other facilities, if possible,” Reisetter says, “and, at a minimum if they do need to work, to use a face mask and eye protection for all patient care in any health care setting where they may be working.”

State officials are making other recommendations, like moving residents who have COVID-19 symptoms to a single room and ensuring staff who care for them are not interacting with other nursing home residents, “so that dedicated staff are working with ill residents and not with health residents,” Reisetter says.

There are more than 440 long term care facilities in Iowa. Ten percent of all the Iowans who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 are either a nursing home resident or employee and nearly half of the Iowans who have died of COVID-19 have been nursing home residents.