Joseph DeMattos Jr., President of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland

COVID-19 is dramatically surging in 47 states, including in Maryland where I work, and we are likely far from any peak of the virus. Now, even more than before, it will take all of us fighting together to protect ourselves, our loved ones and those most at-risk. 

As we approach the holiday season along with the flu season, COVID-19 positivity rates are rapidly increasing. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has rightfully severely limited visitation in our hospitals and nursing homes. I know this is hard, but it will save lives. 

Eight years ago, my dad received outstanding care in a nursing home in another state. He was on hospice care and was actually getting stronger. A couple of weeks before a planned visit, a flu outbreak hit the nursing home and my dad suddenly died.

My parents, both now gone, have always informed my work. Since the start of this pandemic, I’ve been thinking about the loss of my dad. While I am forever thankful for the caregivers who took care of him, I still wish that I could have prevented him from contracting the flu. 

Although not possible for my dad, together we all have an opportunity to help other parents, grandparents, friends,and neighbors in nursing homes by flattening the curve of this latest COVID-19 surge. 

With the upcoming holiday season amid a worldwide pandemic, I don’t want anyone to wonder if their celebration, however small, could have inadvertently spread COVID-19 to an unsuspecting victim.

Even very early on, we knew that older individuals and those with pre-existing conditions would be most at risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. Nursing homes have been on the front lines since the beginning of this pandemic and took proactive steps to keep the virus out and protect those in their care. 

In March, we learned that asymptomatic individuals could spread COVID-19 and high positivity rates in the community lead to high positivity rates in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers in that community. 

The current increase of positive cases is growing more rapidly than previous surges. Every indication shows that these coming months could be even worse than the spring.  

We all must seriously recommit to daily actions that make a difference. Wear your mask, wash your hands and socially distance. Follow the advice of doctors and health officials. Stay home if you are sick. 

Taking these simple steps will protect not only yourself, but will protect our most vulnerable citizens. We must all do our part to keep everyone safe. Again, we know that those in nursing homes are at high risk. And, we know that preventing community spread is key to keeping our most vulnerable populations safe. 

While we now have more tools to fight the virus, COVID-19 fatigue and fear make the current growing surge potentially more catastrophic. Across the world, people are tired of wearing masks and practicing social distancing; people are worried about their families and jobs.  

Healthcare professionals across all settings are not immune to fatigue and fear. But more than anyone, they understand the importance of staying vigilant. We must support our healthcare heroes who have continued to fight this pandemic despite all the challenges they face. 

Those of us who work in support of healthcare heroes and those in their care are doing absolutely everything in our power to help protect your loved ones, healthcare workers, residents and patients. But we cannot do it alone. Please do everything in your power to do the same.  

As we celebrate the upcoming holidays, stay safe. Follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about hosting or attending holiday gatherings. Remember that COVID-19 can still be spread while asymptomatic. Wear a mask and practice social distancing — not only for yourself, but for your loved ones, for vulnerable populations and for healthcare workers. 

Your actions could make a difference in whether or not someone is able to see their loved one in a nursing home again.