Protecting Our Nation’s Elderly from Coronavirus

How Indoor Air Quality Affects Transmissibility

Protecting Our Nation’s Elderly from Coronavirus

The impact of Covid-19 on the country’s senior population is a story continuing to unfold. But we can use current facts and figures to illustrate what our elderly are up against in terms of this pandemic. Unfortunately, the statistics paint a grim picture.

Presently, there are over 51 million Americans 65 and older in the United States in contrast to the over-195 million adults under age 65. (1) And yet, older Americans make up 55% of all adults at-risk for serious complications if infected with Covid-19. The reason seniors are a vulnerable group is two-fold. Firstly, as we age, our immune and respiratory systems weaken, making fighting infection more difficult. Secondly, older people often have underlying health conditions – such as heart and lung disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer – which can further reduce their ability to combat contagious diseases. While coronavirus is blind to age per se, it feeds on those with weak or compromised health profiles.

With data like that, it’s no wonder that transmission and death rates are alarmingly high in elderly communities. In 18 states, at least half the fatalities are linked to nursing homes. As of September, more than 479,000 people at over 19,000 senior care institutions contracted the virus. While only 7% of the country’s cases have occurred in these types of facilities, nursing home residents represent 40% of Covid-19 deaths. (2) Simply put, if you are an adult over the age of 65 and live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, your chance of becoming infected by Covid-19 and then dying from it, are higher than any other group in the country. Over 77,000 residents and workers in nursing homes and like-communities have lost their lives to Covid-19. Why are these populations more at risk?

First, consider the communal nature of elder-care facilities. There is frequent physical contact between residents and staff. Residents often share rooms, and many are shuttled back and forth between hospitals and other facilities where transmissibility can occur. Even before coronavirus arrived in 2020, nursing homes – like many medical institutions – were breeding grounds for infectious diseases. (3) Secondly, these institutions are made up of residents with compromised immune systems, making them prey for the virus.

Knowing what we do about how Covid-19 spreads, it’s no wonder nursing homes are a hot spot for the virus. Infections occur mainly through exposure to respiratory droplets of an infected person – both direct contact and airborne transmission are possible. Because of this, clean air is critical. But eldercare workers have their work cut out for them. The businesses where they work with the elderly are often understaffed, over-populated, and underfunded, making it difficult to follow recommended guidelines for reducing transmission risk. At present, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a strong infection prevention and control program, citing the critical need to protect both residents and healthcare personnel. (4) These recommendations include:

• The wearing of facemasks by all residents, staff, and visitors
• Encouraging physical distancing by maintaining 6ft between people, when possible
• Vigilant cleaning and disinfecting of all objects and surfaces
• Visitor restrictions, where possible
• Limited group activities, when possible
• Adding environmental infection control measures (5) (6) is strongly recommended
• Consider the use of portable HEPA filtration units to improve air quality (7)

While social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, and wiping down surfaces will make nursing homes and long-term care facilities safer, the most effective control measure is elimination. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to reduce transmission threat in higher-risk areas. (8)

Air cleaners and HEPA filters are designed to draw in polluted air and filter out the impurities. Air cleaning and filtration can help reduce airborne contaminants, including particles containing viruses. Portable air cleaners (also known as air purifiers) may be particularly helpful. By itself, air cleaning or filtration is not enough to protect people from exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. But when used alongside other control methods recommended by the CDC, air filtration can be an effective means to protecting nursing home residents and their staff.
Our portable HEPA filter air cleaning systems come in three different models, the filtration and recirculation capabilities ranging in room sizes as small as your typical hospital room to multi-use areas up to 1200 sq. ft.

To find out more about our nursing home air cleaning systems – such as our 987 AMB HEPA Room Air Scrubber model – Contact Air Systems, Inc. to speak to one of our clean air specialists.