No evidence was found as rationale for the 14-day isolation period on resident transition to LTC. This requirement likely arose from evidence that active monitoring for 14 days is sufficient to identify symptom onset in 99% of COVID-19+ cases (1).
No alternatives were found in Canada to a 14-day isolation period on transition of a resident into LTC. A rapid review of viral shedding and the need for isolation recommends a minimum 10-day isolation period, with additional consideration for high risk groups (36). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2) in the US is considering decreasing the standard 14-day quarantine period to 7-10 days in recognition that the general two-week quarantine rule is onerous for many people and most of the benefit of quarantine to public health could be gained with a more flexible and contextual approach. Implications for changes in Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) policy on quarantine or duration of isolation for admission to LTC are not yet established.
The Canadian policies at the provincial government levels align with the PHAC’s recommendation of 14 days of isolation (14). Most jurisdictions across Canada follow guidelines requiring a resident to have a negative test on admission, and 14 days of self-isolation with contact and droplet precautions (4, 17).
However, a few jurisdictions stratify the level of precaution or need for isolation by community transmission (3, 5). For example, the Province of Alberta’s (5) Operational and Outbreak Standards for LTC recommends the following safety precaution: for residents with low or unknown risk of exposure, twice daily symptom checks for 14 days; for residents with medium risk, continuous use of a mask for 14 days while out of resident room; for residents with high risk, quarantine for 14 days.
Best practices on transition to LTC to support residents’ well-being
Some Canadian policies state the importance of protecting resident well-being on transition to LTC but provide little guidance on how to ensure this is done. For residents who might find self-isolation challenging (e.g. those with cognitive challenges), Government of New Brunswick (18) recommends taking efforts to ensure adequate staffing level and support residents’ individualized care plan.
Residents in LTC who have cognitive impairments will have difficulties understanding the need for isolation and absence of families and friends, and complying with isolation procedures (31). There is little guidance for long-term care facilities on how to support safe isolation of those living with cognitive impairments, while maintaining the human dignity and personhood of the individual. Strategies need to be developed to have an isolation care planning that is effective, safe, and compassionate (31).
Maintaining connections between residents and their families should be supported under safety, socio-emotional, and ethical grounds (39). Several provinces and international jurisdictions designate Essential Family Caregivers (EFCs), who are present not for social visits but to provide services and brought into the facilities under the same specific protocols as staff (39, 49, 50, 51).
Gao, Y; Ward, H; Tupper, S; Boden, C; Miller, L; Mueller, M. What is the evidence for 14-day isolation upon move-in to long-term care during COVID-19 pandemic? 2020 Dec 13; Document no.: LTC090801 RR. In: COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Reviews [Internet]. SK: SK COVID Evidence Support Team, c2020. 33 p. (CEST rapid review report)
No scientific evidence was found to support limits of a specific number of visitors. The Newfoundland/Labrador visitor policy referred to evidence supporting restrictions to 6 contact persons including one designated support person and 5 visitors; however, supporting references were not provided (25; 4.1).
The majority of Canadian and international visitation or family presence policies differentiate between general visitors (those attending for social visits) and designated support persons (essential care providers involved in physical, psychosocial, behavioral, cultural, or language support).
Designated support persons are not limited in duration, timing, or frequency of access to resident (3, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 24, 26).
The majority of policies limit the number of general visitors to 2 persons. These visits typically have to be scheduled and may be restricted if there is an outbreak, if the resident is COVID+, or if community transmission is high. General visitors are usually not restricted during end of life or other compassionate care reasons.
Although modeling data supports contact restrictions as an effective measure to reduce infection spread, contact restriction can be achieved with infection prevention and control measures of micro-distancing, including hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, and mask use (49). Family presence in LTC can support efforts to reduce resident wandering, micro-distancing, and hand hygiene.
There continues to be no scientific evidence that family presence increases risk of infection spread into and throughout LTC homes (1, 2, 44, 46)
No evidence was found that examined adherence of family caregivers to IPAC practices. A self-report survey of visitors and staff in 87 LTC homes in Hong Kong found that visitors self-reported high compliance with most infection prevention measures despite only one quarter of homes providing education (50). Low knowledge was identified as a primary barrier for infection prevention for visitors.
Education materials have been developed in several jurisdictions for family caregivers regarding COVID-19 IPAC best practices (4, 6, 8, 28).
No evidence was found regarding the impact of staff or family caregiver education on COVID-19 infection or transmission in LTC homes.
Ward, H; Tupper, S; Miller, L; Boden, C; Mueller, M. What is the evidence regarding limiting patient visitors in long-term care facilities to 2 or less, and how are other jurisdictions managing family caregivers? 2020 Dec 4; Document no.: LTC101501 RR. In: COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Reviews [Internet]. SK: SK COVID Evidence Support Team, c2020. 35 p. (CEST rapid review report)
· The terms cluster and outbreak both describe the occurrence of new disease cases within a particular location and time period. The number of cases within a cluster are not necessarily greater than what is expected, however in an outbreak the number of cases does exceed the usual norm.
· In an outbreak the cases are confirmed to be epidemiologically linked while in a cluster an epidemiological connection is only suspected.
· Not all clusters are outbreaks, however each cluster needs to be investigated
· Understanding how to characterize COVID-19 cases based on a suspected or proven epidemiological link can better guide prevention of disease spreading
Radu, L; Badea, A; Groot, G; Ellsworth, C; Young, C. What is the definition of an outbreak versus a cluster for COVID-19 in different clinical and community settings in Canada, the US, and the UK? 2020 Jul 27; Document no.: EOC071001 RR. In: COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Reviews [Internet]. SK: SK COVID Evidence Support Team, c2020. 11 p. (CEST rapid review report)
Core concepts of family engagement include dignity and respect, information sharing, participation in care and decision making, and collaboration (Hart 2020).
A careful balance needs to be maintained between attending to patients’ physical and psychological needs and adhering to infection control guidelines, while offering psychological support to family members (Chan 2006).
The word ‘visitation’ does not adequately describe family members’ involvement. Family presence is a more suitable term as it redefines families as partners in care (Hart 2020). However, it is important to recognize that family presence is not a substitute for adequate staffing levels.
Very little guidance is provided in the literature on innovative or specific approaches engage family care providers during a pandemic. The literature mainly focuses on supporting alternate forms of communication such as telephone calls, or technology assisted communication through social media or video/voice calls.
Enhanced communication strategies that provide regular information to a primary family contact on the patient/resident condition and allow chosen care partners to contribute to decision making as much as possible are recommended (Koller 2006).
The negative impact of visitation restrictions places increased stress on patients/residents and families who are unable to provide or receive non-healthcare specific supportive care. Those with neurocognitive disorders or communication barriers are more significantly impacted.
Staff also report increased stress during family visitation restrictions due to the additional time required to take on a “familial role” for the patient/resident. These roles may include providing a supportive environment, social interaction, information sharing, and opportunities for play (Koller 2006a – pediatric hospital setting).
The search question did not specifically look at impact of visitation on infection rates; therefore, there is insufficient information to determine if visitation policies affect infection rates. However, a systematic review in pediatric hospital setting in Ontario found no connection between liberal visiting hours and increased SARS infection rates (Smith 2009).
When facilitating sibling visitation in the NICU, a pre-visit education process is recommended. Maternity settings may wish to consider a 'combination' policy, where the women's partners and/or significant other would have open visiting (all day), with restricted visiting for others. In other general hospital ward settings, open visiting with a 'quiet hour' is suggested (Smith 2009).
Tupper, S; Ward, H; Dalidowicz, M; Boden, C; Ellsworth, C; What are best practices for engaging family care providers during a pandemic? 2020 Apr 16; Document no.: LTC042401 RR. In: COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Reviews [Internet]. SK: SK COVID Evidence Support Team, c2020. 22 p. (CEST rapid review report)
Visitor restrictions in long-term care (LTC) during an outbreak or pandemic are implemented due to the perceived risk of transmission between residents or staff and visitors.
· Social isolation and possible loss of care resulting from visitor restrictions in LTC may place residents at risk of poorer outcomes in terms of both physical and mental health, as well as distress to families and staff (see Saskatchewan LTC Network Family Perspective).
· Visitor restriction policies typically allow visits for compassionate reasons that include end of life, critical care, and support of persons who require assistance beyond that provided by healthcare e.g. support for feeding, mobility, or behaviors, but specific detail on these is not consistent or clear.
· Recent changes to visitation policies in Australia are less restrictive and allow brief visitations (end of table 1, noted in red font).
· Although the majority of policies describe a need for flexibility and case-by-case assessment of visits deemed “essential”, the majority of policies are not clear in who is to conduct this analysis or the criteria that should be used to make these decisions.
Visitation policies differ in detail regarding the number of visitors allowed at one time, total number of visitors allowed, visit duration, mobility within the home and location of the visit.
· Remote and technology assisted visits are to be facilitated by LTC staff.
· Infection control practices are enforced for visitors, and may include screening (e.g. temperature, symptoms, travel and contact history), prohibiting ill visitors, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), hand and cough hygiene.
· Education of visitors and support for proper infection control practices is encouraged in the majority of policies.
Tupper, S; Ward, H; Howell-Spooner, B; Dalidowicz, M; Boden, C. How is "compassionate visit" defined and operationalized in the context of an infectious outbreak or pandemic in long-term care? 2020 May 1; Document no.: LTC042402
RR. In: COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Reviews [Internet]. SK: SK COVID Evidence Support Team, c2020. 17 p. (CEST rapid review report)
· Overall, there is a lack of high quality evidence to support recommended pandemic preparedness strategies (checklist items) to prevent or mitigate respiratory infection outbreaks in LTC.
· In the absence of high-quality or mixed evidence to support strategies for pandemic preparedness, it is advisable to follow clinical practice guideline recommendations that have been based on expert opinion (key sources are identified in red). This is particularly the case for infection control interventions that are likely to have no negative impacts on LTC residents (e.g. hand hygiene, cough etiquette). Strategies that have a potential negative impact on LTC residents (e.g. visitor restrictions) must be handled with more flexibility and individual assessment to determine how infection control can be preserved while minimizing negative consequences for residents and families.
· Internationally recognized pandemic/outbreak preparedness checklists for LTC (e.g. CDC 2020, Buynder et al. 2017) share many similarities to the current SHA Annex R checklists.
· Consideration should be given to converting the checklist into a planner with accountabilities to demonstrate how each item is being addressed (similar to CDC 2020). Links can be embedded in the planner/checklist to more detailed information, such as the PPE burn calculator (CDC 2020), education/training materials (WHO 2020), and communication materials for families (CDC 2020, WHO 2020, Buynder et al. 2017).
· Consider the addition of specific detail to the SHA pandemic preparedness checklists on the date of the next pandemic plan/checklist review, contact names for local resource acquisition or assistance with staffing, tracking forms for dates of education/training with staff and residents, tracking of audits/observation of infection control practices, surge capacity planning items, and expanded items for communication (see attached recommendations from family caregivers of the Saskatchewan LTC Network).
· Discrepancies exist between reported (77-100%) and observed (25-63%) adherence to infection control practices, indicating a need for independent audits. Adherence rates improve with direct observation, frequent education reminders and prompts.
· Even when there is not an outbreak in a home, the pandemic response results in increased workload demands on staff due to infection control practices (e.g. PPE and hand hygiene), loss of family caregiver assistance with resident care, enhanced care needs of residents due to anxiety, increased communication with family caregivers and other members of the care team, monitoring and restricting resident movement in the home, enhanced cleaning, staff absenteeism, and education/training. Consideration is needed for a provincial process for evaluation of needs within individual homes, and allocation of additional human resources, disposable supplies, equipment, or funding to ensure that both infection control and usual care needs of residents are consistently met.
· Maintaining public confidence through communication is a defined infection control strategy. Communication strategies include individual communication between family members and staff, public communication strategies by individual facilities and provincially through dedicated pandemic information pertaining to LTC (e.g. dedicated LTC section on provincial websites).
Provincial and state policies tend towards disincentivizing removal of residents from LTC during the pandemic due to perceived increased risks in the community.
Planning, risk and resource evaluation, clear communication, and follow-up arerequired to successfully transition a well-selected resident from LTC to the community.
Several tools exist to support communication and decision making around leaving LTC.
Family/informal caregiver fears are heightened by media reports describing abandonmentand lack of proper PPE use.
Fears can be mitigated by frequent, transparent communication that is both push and pull in nature.
Increased oversight of LTC homes by provincial oversight committees during the pandemic can ensure that provision of routine care, infection prevention measures, and effective communicationare in place.
If a resident leaves to community and has to return,appropriate isolation and screening measures would be required.
Tupper, S; Ward, H; Groot, G; Ellsworth, C; Dalidowicz, M; Boden, C. What decision support or communication materials are available for helping LTC directors discuss care options with residents' family members? 2020 Apr 14; Document no.: LTC040801 RR. In: COVID-19 Rapid Evidence Reviews [Internet]. SK: SK COVID Evidence Support Team, c2020. 23 p. (CEST rapid review report)