After nearly four months, state health officials announced Friday that nursing homes and long-term care facilities may resume limited visitation, as long as there has been no new onset cases of COVID-19 within the past 28 days.
Two visitors are allowed per resident at a time, and the visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and practice social distancing during the visits. At least one of the two visitors must be at least 18 years of age or older.
In June, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended nursing homes wait to allow visitors in until the region is in Phase 3 and there have been no COVID-19 positive tests within the nursing home for 28 days.
At each facility, only 10 percent of the residents can see visitors. The State Department of Health gave an example; in a 100-bed facility no more than 10 residents can have visitors per day. Anyone with COVID-like symptoms is not eligible for a visit.
The State Department of Health issued guidance limiting visitation in these facilities, hospitals, and group homes unless medically necessary or for end-of-life services on March 13, as the novel coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this week, the state released a report that pointed at staff for unknowingly spreading the virus in nursing homes, which were hit hard by COVID-19. Visitation restrictions were lifted at hospitals and group homes in mid-June.
“With the knowledge we now have about how COVID-19 came into nursing homes – mainly through asymptomatic staff and visitors through no fault of their own – it is critical that as we resume visitations to these facilities we do it in a smart and cautious way to ensure the health and safety of residents and staff,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation in each facility, and make adjustments based on the facts and data moving forward. I know how painful it has been for residents of these facilities to endure such a long period of time without seeing family and loved ones, and my hope is that this adjustment to the visitation policy will provide some comfort to everyone.”
Nursing homes accepting visitors have to create a visitation plan and send it to the state health department, attesting to the guidance. The state also said in its guidance that nursing homes should develop a short, easy-to-read fact sheet outlining visitor expectations, including appropriate hand hygiene and face coverings, and that it should be provided when visitors are screened for entry.
Zucker also announced Friday that on-site visitation for the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which provides additional support to residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, will resume on July 15.
The Ombudsman staff must will don appropriate personal protective equipment during visits. They must also be screened, just as nursing home staff are, having to present a verified negative test result from within the past week. In May, the state mandated nursing home staff be tested twice a week, but later dropped it to once a week.
The Department of Health will make adjustments to the visitation policy as appropriate based on facts and data following this initial phase to ensure the health and safety of residents, staff and visitors.