McKnight’s Senior Editor Liza Berger recently spoke with CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., who gave his take on some of the most pressing issues in the eldercare industry. The following is an edited version of his responses.

Softening the blow of flu season

Virus mitigation strategies such as social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing not only will help to curb the spread of the coronavirus, they will help to lessen the severity of the upcoming flu season, said Redfield. 

“If we all did that for [up to] 12 weeks, the COVID outbreak in the United States would really be brought to its knees. If we continue to do that in the fall … we’ll have a really mild flu season,” he said.

Without these measures, “we could end up with two serious pathogens coming through at the same time,” putting further stress on the healthcare system, he said.

Worker testing and flu shots key to halting new outbreaks

With COVID-19 outbreaks recurring in nursing homes, weekly COVID-19 testing and flu shots for workers are essential, Redfield said.

Given the strong asymptomatic aspect of COVID-19, an aggressive surveillance program is critical to stop workers from unknowingly spreading it to residents, he contended.

“This virus is continuing to be reintroduced to nursing homes and we need to shut that down,” he said. 

Meanwhile, flu vaccination rates among long-term care workers continue to be a problem, Redfield added. Among nursing home workers, the rates are under 70%.

“I would encourage the owners of these facilities to make [flu vaccination] a requirement, like it [had] been made for me to be able to work in my hospital when I practiced medicine,” he said.

Real-time data collection 

The CDC’s National Health Safety Network, which is collecting COVID-19 case information from nursing homes, is a “critical surveillance system,” Redfield said.

NHSN will allow health officials to “begin to have real-time data on the parameters of COVID infection in long-term care facilities, particularly as new therapeutics are developed which may have unique benefits,” he explained.

Now that the Trump administration has required states to provide hospital data to the Department of Health and Human Services rather than the CDC, the NHSN will be able to increase its focus on nursing home and long-term care facility reporting needs, Redfield explained during separate remarks to the media on Wednesday. This is “an absolutely central element of our pandemic response,” he said.