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Health officials issue updated guidance for nursing home visits

With positive COVID-19 cases on the decline, health officials want to ‘bring more families together safely’

Photo (c) PIKSEL - Getty Images
As the number of individuals immunized against COVID-19 continues to grow, health officials have updated their guidance for safely visiting nursing home residents during the pandemic. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), along with the CDC, said in updated guidance that nursing homes and long-term care facilities should now allow “responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident or visitor.” 

The agencies added that there are certain scenarios that warrant extra precaution and limited visitation, including: 

  • Unvaccinated residents, if the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;

  • Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met the criteria to discontinue transmission-based precautions; and

  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine.

The health agencies said “compassionate care” visits -- meaning visits for residents whose health has taken a significant turn for the worst or those who have experienced a major change in circumstances -- should be allowed at all times, regardless of a resident’s vaccination status or the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate. 

Facilities should continue to implement COVID-19 precautions and health measures, the agencies said. Outdoor visits should be conducted whenever possible and physical distancing should be enforced. 

“This continues to be the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly if either party has not been fully vaccinated,” the CMS said in a statement. 

Mitigating the effects of isolation

It’s now been a year since the start of the pandemic, and health officials say they are aware that long-term isolation and separation from loved ones can take a toll on an individuals’ mental and emotional health. With that in mind, the group said it wants to “bring more families together safely.” 

“CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families,” said Dr. Lee Fleisher, MD, CMS Chief Medical Officer and Director of CMS’ Center for Clinical Standards and Quality. 

“That is why, now that millions of vaccines have been administered to nursing home residents and staff, and the number of COVID cases in nursing homes has dropped significantly, CMS is updating its visitation guidance to bring more families together safely. This is an important step that we are taking, as we continue to emphasize the importance of maintaining infection prevention practices, given the continued risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

CMS said COVID-19 positivity rates in nursing homes have dropped significantly since vaccines began rolling out in December. As of this week, more than three million doses of vaccines have been administered within nursing homes.  

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