Nursing care facilities around the country are ramping up efforts to protect their residents as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase. This week, one religious order told CNA how they are working to protect the elderly in their care.

At least 1,088 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States and 31 people are reported to have died from the virus. More than half of the deaths, 19, were connected to a single nursing home in the city of Kirkland, WA.

In this one nursing home, 55 people contracted the virus, the second-largest number of cases in the United States connected to a single location. Across the state, 10 different elderly care facilities have residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, with a fatality rate of nearly 15% of cases. Conversely, those under the age of 30 have almost all recovered from the disease.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order dedicated to serving the elderly poor, told CNA on Tuesday that they are taking extra measures to keep the residents of their homes safe from illness, including coronavirus.

No cases have been discovered at any of the order’s more than two dozen nursing homes in the United States.

“We are following all of the guidance being given in order to keep our elderly residents as safe as possible,” Sr. Constance Veit, LSP, told CNA. Sr. Constance is the communications contact for the order’s Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, DC.

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living has issued many guidelines and guidances to skilled nursing facilities on what they should do to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

The AHCA/NCAL published a list of five “reasonable efforts” that should be taken to protect the elderly, which mainly involve isolating vulnerable members of the population from exposure to the disease.

“Due to the very serious impact COVID-19 will continue to have on our elderly population and those with underlying conditions, we are recommending that you evaluate your current visitation policies to determine whether some of these best practices could be implemented at your communities,” said the guidance.

The recommendations include restricting visits to the facility to “only those who need entry,” such as employees, government officials, and immediate family members, “who need to visit for critical or time sensitive reasons such as hospice-related visits, complete medical authorizations, etc.”

“Routine social visits are strongly discouraged,” says the guidance, but all visits in general are not to be banned.

Care facilities should also move to “restrict activities and visitors with potential for exposure,” “actively screen individuals entering the building” and banning entry to those with visible respiratory symptoms or exposure to COVID-19, require that all who enter the facility wash their hands, and “set up processes to allow remote communication for residents and others.”

These remote communications, which include telephone or video chat, are so residents will be able to talk to their loved ones despite the new restrictions on guests and visitors.

Sr. Constance told CNA that the District of Columbia was also “giving constant guidance to nursing homes.”

There have been four “presumptive positive” tests for COVID-19 in Washington, DC, with 15 more tests pending. None are in nursing homes.

Hygienic practices aside, the Little Sisters of the Poor are embracing another protective tactic: prayer.

“Our homes around the world are offering Masses and prayers for this protection, so that our elderly and collaborators at every level will be protected,” said Sr. Constance.