Nursing homes could face 'wildfire' spread of coronavirus

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— Four of the six people in the U.S. whose deaths have been attributed to coronavirus lived in a nursing home in Washington state.

Lauren Zingraff, executive director of Friends of Residents in Long Term Care, a Raleigh-based nonprofit, said residents in nursing facilities are at greater risk for the virus and others like the flu.

“It’s a nightmare,” Zingraff said. “One person can be sick, and then it’s just going to spread like wildfire because everyone is in the same residence, in the same space.”

As many as 50 people in the Kirkland, Wash., nursing home are showing signs of respiratory illness and are being tested for coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest nursing facilities post signs at the entrance asking people not to visit if they have respiratory symptoms, encourage workers to stay home if they are sick and monitor incoming residents for respiratory symptoms and, if they are sick, implement appropriate infection prevention practices.

Zingraff said family members of nursing home patients should prepare – not panic – for a possible outbreak or quarantine.

“What can you provide if they are there without you for a period of time? They can still feel comfort and make it through challenging times,” she said.

Steve Byers, whose 82-year-old mother is in such a facility in Raleigh, said he’s not overly concerned about the coronavirus – even after seeing the news about the nursing home in Washington. The nursing home where his mother lives hasn’t said a word about the virus, and he takes her to doctors.

“My daughter is traveling to Los Angeles next week. I worry more about her going there than my mom here,” Byers said.