Care homes receive virus guidance after deaths inquiry

Family minister Corinne Cahen, pictured during a March 2021 press conference Photo: SIP / Jean-Christophe Verhaegen

Family minister Corinne Cahen, pictured during a March 2021 press conference Photo: SIP / Jean-Christophe Verhaegen

The government on Wednesday issued recommendations to care homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in their facilities, following an independent report into the deaths of hundreds of residents.

Four in ten people who died after testing positive for Sars-CoV-2 lived in a nursing, retirement or other care home, a report presented in July said. An expert group had been charged with investigating the deaths following criticism from opposition lawmakers that the government had failed to impose adequate rules to protect residents.

During a press conference on Wednesday, health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) and family minister Corinne Cahen (DP) presented a set of recommendations for the structures without, however, making them mandatory.

For example, the health directorate will make available sufficient rapid antigen tests for residents to get tested at least twice a week, but they won’t be forced to do so. Under the latest covid-19 laws, staff, visitors and other people accessing the sites must, however, pass a CovidCheck scan or carry out a self-test before entering.

Homes should keep a register including the name, address, phone number and the time of each visit to facilitate contact tracing, the ministers said. In addition, residents are advised to wear masks when moving around the building, but this only becomes mandatory when a case is diagnosed.

The recommendations also detail the use of personal protective equipment by staff--such as gloves, goggles and aprons--when interacting with infected patients, distancing between residents during meals and activities, and quarantine rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated residents.

The recommendations were issued to 65 homes with more than 7,300 places for residents. Four people were reported as currently being considered infected with the coronavirus, documents published on 21 September said.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, nearly 2,000 care home residents tested positive for Sars-CoV-2, with 58 residents testing positive more than once. More than 200 people died in a care after contracting the virus, while 134 residents had been transferred to a hospital where they died. The total number of care home deaths linked to the pandemic stands at 353.

Cahen in July survived a vote in parliament after members of the opposition had called for her resignation. The expert group had concluded that recommendations last year were unclear, citing an overlap of responsibilities between the health and family ministries. It also said homes had been left underprepared for the infection wave that struck the country in October and November.

More than 95% of care home residents have in the meantime been vaccinated, data presented on Wednesday shows. The vaccination of staff remains voluntary even though the July report urged policymakers to consider mandatory vaccination.

At the time of publication, the report authors criticised that only around 60% of care home staff were vaccinated. There are no updated official figures available. Luxembourg virologist Claude Muller in March said it was “unprofessional” that healthcare facilities did not track which of their staff had been vaccinated.