Background Paper on Enabling Social Contact for Nursing Home Residents during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Kerstin Hämel (Universität Bielefeld), Annett Horn (Fachhochschule Münster), Ariane Rolf (Fachhochschule Bielefeld), Katharina Graffmann-Weschke (AOK Pflege Akademie der AOK Nordost), Gabriela Petereit-Haack (Regierungspräsidium Darmstadt), Patrick Ziech (Niedersächsisches Landesgesundheitsamt), Birgit Hartleb (Ostfalia Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften), Martina Hasseler (Jade Hochschule Oldenburg), Frauke Koppelin (Jade Hochschule Oldenburg), Andreas Seidler (Technische Universität Dresden)

The full paper is available in German at:

The Working Group on Nursing, Health and Ageing of the Covid-19 Public Health Research Network ( has addressed the question of social contact for nursing home residents during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Background Paper (Version 01; December 15, 2020) draws on an explorative interview study (April/May 2020) to provide insights into nurses’ perceptions of contact restrictions in nursing homes in Germany during the early phase of the pandemic. It also supplies an overview of measures and approaches discussed in the literature. As well as research in databases and manual and snowball searches, the Country Reports of the International Long-term Care Policy Network ( were also considered.

The core messages of the Background Paper are:

•    In view of the importance of social contacts for health, restrictions on visits should be kept to the necessary minimum.

•    Promoting social belonging and fostering interaction with other residents, family members, friends and neighbours is a demanding professional responsibility of nursing home staff.

•    Concepts and measures need to be developed and implemented to enable social contacts during the pandemic while at the same time providing strong protection against infection.

•    The explorative interview study indicates the enormous challenges, uncertainty and stress faced by care professionals, residents and family members. They require clear guidance on appropriate means and measures to reduce the obstacles to social contacts created by the pandemic, and support in implementing them.

•    In the literature we identify five areas where action is required:

(a) Minimising transmission risks during personal visits.

(b) Informing and motivating residents and family members.

(c) Promoting virtual visits and digital media skills.

(d) Creating possibilities for socialising and activities among residents.

(f) Promotion of skill-building and support for staff.

•    The new contact options developed in recent months in nursing homes need to be supported more strongly with relevant information for those involved, appropriate technical equipment in homes, and skill development and training. No literature was found on the issue of involving residents and family members in decisions about concepts and measures; studies are needed that investigate residents’ and family members’ views on the suitability of different contact options for their needs and protection.

•    Further research is required to improve the possibilities for social contact in nursing homes during the current pandemic, and for future pandemic preparation.

The COVID-19 Public Health Research Network is an ad hoc consortium of more than 25 scientific societies and organisations that are active in the field of public health. They bring together their expertise in research methods, epidemiology, statistics, social sciences, demography, and medicine. The network comprises scientists from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

We thank Meredith Dale for translating this summary of the Background Paper.

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