The Trump administration on Wednesday issued new guidance to prioritize inspection efforts at nursing homes around the country in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Vice President Pence met with nursing home and long-term care industry leaders at the White House on Wednesday morning as part of ongoing outreach between the government and businesses affected by the virus.
The administration later distributed updated protocols to ensure nursing homes are taking proper measures to limit the transmission of the disease among one of the most vulnerable populations.
"We have raised the bar involving infectious disease control at our nursing homes," Pence told reporters at a press briefing.
The government is reallocating its inspection resources to focus specifically on whether nursing homes are complying with infection control standards, Pence said. Surveyors typically also monitor for issues such as abuse and neglect during inspection.
Randy Bury, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, was among the industry representatives in attendance for the 45-minute White House meeting.
He described the gathering as a productive dialogue between the two sides with a focus on the new inspection expectations and efforts to address supply chain issues related to medical protective equipment.
"Their surveying process is going to be focused on infection control," Bury said in an interview. "They’re going to triage their surveying to go to areas that have had outbreaks."
Government inspectors would be looking for basic hygiene practices at the facilities, Bury said, such as ensuring that employees and residents are washing their hands and that visitors are not exhibiting symptoms.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma indicated during the meeting that inspectors would not be conducting reviews with the intention of penalizing facilities that fail to meet standards, Bury said, but would be focused on ensuring best practices are being followed.
Pence met later Wednesday with executives from the airline industry and medical labs.
More than 100 Americans have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, and 11 people in the U.S. have died from the disease. Of those, 10 were in Washington state and one was in California.
Four of the reported deaths in Washington state were residents of a nursing home, illustrating the danger the disease poses to the elderly and those who have underlying health conditions.
Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House response to the coronavirus, told reporters that data from Italy and South Korea has underscored that seniors are most susceptible to the virus. The median age of those infected in Italy is 60, while the median age of those who have died there is 81, she said.