Long term care advocates said on Dec. 15 there is still time for Congress to act on a new COVID-19 stimulus package, which they say is needed to give providers the tools to continue to fight what is a raging coronavirus pandemic.

According to a press statement by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), the nation’s long term care providers still face an uphill battle when it comes to battling COVID-19.

“COVID cases in nursing homes have now surpassed their peak in the spring due to the growing surge in cases among the general population. Top academic experts continue to point to community spread as a primary factor in the likelihood of outbreaks in long term care facilities,” the association said.

And, with the holiday season underway and winter months approaching, the situation may get worse before it gets better. AHCA/NCAL noted that Thanksgiving travel contributed to the current surge in cases, and Christmas travel is expected to result in another.

“There is still time for Congress to pass another COVID stimulus bill during the lame-duck session. As lawmakers continue to deliberate, and with two COVID relief bills introduced this week, AHCA/NCAL is urging lawmakers to take action to prioritize long term care residents and staff,” the group said.

The two COVID relief bills would allocate additional resources for the Provider Relief Fund, as well as financial support specifically directed to long term care providers.

“The $2 billion proposed for long term care providers would be particularly helpful as they cope with increased expenses for everything from PPE [personal protective equipment] to staffing. We urge Congress to reach an agreement on these proposals and take swift action to get support to long term care staff and residents across the country,” AHCA/NCAL said.

On the vaccine front, the association said now that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use, and distribution has begun, several governors have prioritized long term care residents and staff for the vaccine and providers are starting to roll out distribution in their facilities.

“Governors who have not yet finalized their distribution plans should follow suit,” AHCA/NCAL said.

While the vaccine is a significant turning point, the fight is not over, the association stressed. It will likely take months for all residents and staff members to receive the necessary two doses to establish full protection from the virus, and AHCA/NCAL said it has challenged all states to accomplish this by March 1.

“In the meantime, long term care providers will still need the tools they need to win, including PPE, testing, and staffing support. Reports of staffing shortages have grown in recent weeks,” the group said.

“Providers across the country are facing dire shortages of workers, putting added strain on their workforce. Even after the vaccine, experts are advising health care providers and individuals to remain vigilant about wearing PPE, the No. 1 cost for many long term care providers at the moment. Long term care providers cannot continue to fight the pandemic without the financial support of Congress.”