Former head of CDC says nursing homes are "ground zero" for coronavirus

The former head of the CDC is calling on nursing homes across the country to take action, saying they are "ground zero for COVID-19."

When coronavirus first made its way to Washington state, Life Care Center in Kirkland was infected. As of Tuesday, 19 deaths are linked to the nursing facility.

The Gov. Jay Inslee said the state will require that long-term care facilities limit residents to one adult visitor per day unless residents are near death. Visitors would have to wear protective clothing, but former head of the CDC Dr. Tom Frieden says it's not enough.

As coronavirus is most deadly in elderly patients or those with compromised immune systems, especially when living in close quarters, Frieden believes nursing homes need to be more proactive in protecting the elderly.

Map of COVID-19 cases across the US, updated as confirmed by CDC

Over the weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all nursing homes in New Rochelle, the suburb that's the epicenter for COVID-19 cases in New York, to stop allowing all visitors.

"We also must ensure that any nursing home staff who are ill not come to work -- and that they receive paid leave, so they have no economic incentive to come to work if ill," Frieden wrote in an opinion piece posted on "Families want to visit loved ones; we should facilitate virtual visits until we know more and can do more to protect the most vulnerable."

About 2.5 million people live in long-term care facilities in the United States.

Dr. Anthonty Facuci from NIH/NIAID said that this weekend, the CDC will be making recommendations about how to deal with vulnerable populations like the elderly. Until then, official advice for everyone is if you're feeling sick, do not visit a nursing home.
"It is essential that we protect the most vulnerable people -- those with serious underlying health conditions such as respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes and older adults," Frieden said.

Officials with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are implementing new rules which include deploying 8,200 surveyors to 15,000 nursing homes across the country to ensure that the facilities are following infection control protocols.

They also recommend that nursing homes question staff and visitors about their recent travel to countries with known cases of coronavirus.

Other new rules include posting signs requesting people with acute respiratory illness refrain from entering nursing facilities and placing individuals believed to have COVID-19 in single rooms with closed door policies.

To read the full CMS Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of COVID-19, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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