As the United States have rushed to address the growing threat posed by the novel coronavirus, statistics have made it clear that certain populations are at greater risk than others. Older adults and those with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or HIV, are at particularly high risk for severe cases of COVID-19, the disease that develops in some people with the coronavirus.

Across the state of Ohio, nursing homes have announced steps intended to reduce the spread of the virus. These include reducing or eliminating visiting hours, stepped-up isolation and cleaning protocols, and even enforcing sick leave requirements for staff showing symptoms, something that should arguably be standard practice in facilities full of vulnerable older adults already.

Unfortunately, just because facilities commit to or promise certain behavior does not mean that they will actually follow through with it. Families may eventually discover that lax cleaning, neglect and inadequate staffing contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in a facility where their loved one lived.

When staff members cut corners, they could easily transmit the disease

Nursing home staff are often stretched very thin due to inadequate staff and high demand from residents, especially during certain times of day, such as mealtime. At times when residents may be increasingly demanding because of their fears or illnesses, staff may fail to adhere to best practices regarding cleaning because of stress or feeling overwhelmed.

For example, if staff have to rush from one room to another, they may not take adequate steps to sanitize themselves before touching a resident or equipment in their room. Additionally, if staff don’t respond quickly to reports of symptoms by residents or fail to get people tested, someone’s condition and prognosis could worsen dramatically by the time their symptoms reach a point where staff can no longer ignore them.

Not only could that individual wind up sicker, but they could potentially spread the virus to far more people during the time that they go undiagnosed and untreated. Maintaining contact with your loved one during this time is of critical importance, as they can inform you of whether or not the nursing home is taking adequate steps to protect residents from exposure, and treat and test those who may have acquired the COVID-19 infection.