At last. I haven’t worn a mask in public in months, I’m starting to see friends again, I’m eating in restaurants again, and my new normal is the old normal. Life is good. 

There’s some hesitation in that statement. Our local newspaper tracks COVID-19 cases and deaths every week, and in the last seven days, 17 people in Ohio have died of COVID. That’s a far cry from the hundreds who were dying each day and quite a relief to those of us who toiled on the front lines and worked to keep our clients alive and send them home healthy. 

It’s quite a relief except for those 17 people and their families. 

We have a few new variants, including the EU.1.1 variant, which makes up 1.7% of cases in the U.S. No need to be alarmed, but we should be cautious. This new variant may be more transmissible, but it’s not cause for concern, as its effects are not as lethal as previous variants. However, those who are immunocompromised should get the booster to protect themselves and others. 

Which brings up my next point: The nationwide vaccine mandate for healthcare workers has been withdrawn. This is great news for regaining our staffing but bad news for our geriatric population. The average age of death in the last week was 66 years old. Our populations are generally significantly older. 

In the new version of pandemic vs. endemic, like the flu, we can expect COVID to be our unwelcome companion going forward. We will treat it with chemical therapeutics, and we will sequester the infected as we do with any other communicable disease. But hiring the unvaccinated puts all of us at risk, especially the elderly in our care. 

I have a friend who tested positive on a Sunday and went to lunch on Tuesday with her “Red Hat” group because “I don’t feel too bad, and my doctor said it was ok.” (For those unaware, the Red Hats are a group of older women who find friendship in monthly lunches with like-minded women.) These women are almost exclusively 60 to 90 years old. She infected several ladies at that lunch, but she recovered nicely. This is the risk. When our staff isn’t vaccinated and comes to work coughing, the lives of those they care for are at risk. 

In withdrawing the vaccine mandate, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has now tied staff vaccinations to Quality Measures, MIPS, and likely other measures. These measures will document education on vaccination benefits but will not require immunization. 

As a proponent of staff education in every case and in every situation, I’m all for it. Link staff education on infection control, biomechanical transfers, and healthcare mythology to Quality Measures for the benefit of everyone. But education around vaccinations should be paramount in this age of post-pandemic/new endemic COVID. 

The refuted mythology that continues to be spread among our coworkers is the roadblock to effective acceptance. A staff member on our COVID unit put a cut onion on the counter to “absorb the germs.” My neighbors are two nurses who work in a large hospital ER. They were forced to get the first two shots but refused further shots because (I’m sorry for what you’re about to read), “That’s how they track you. And that’s how they sterilize you.” And that’s how I walk away.

We will never achieve 100% vaccination, especially in this age of politicization of disease. But we can keep pushing science, keep pushing education, and keep working to make our population as healthy and functional as we can. Back to business as usual.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, WCC, CKTP, CDP, TWD, is the regional director of therapy operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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