On Friday, the government ordered nursing homes wide open to visitors, loosening many remaining restrictions on the pandemic, and urged residents, families and facility staff to be vigilant about outbreaks.
New guidelines for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services mandate nursing homes to allow all-time visits for all residents. Institutions will no longer be able to limit the frequency and duration of visits or require advance planning. While large groups of visitors are not welcome, nursing homes will not be allowed to limit the number of loved ones and friends who can visit residents.
Many states and communities are still grappling with outbreaks of COVID-19 caused by the aggressive delta variant, but the most recent government data show that cases among residents and staff continued to decline after rising earlier in the summer and fall.
Nationally, vaccination rates average 86% for nursing home residents and 74% for staff, although this can vary greatly from state to state and facility to facility. Many nursing homes are in a hurry to give injections to their residents. The government recently required employees to be vaccinated.
It “brings us closer to the pre-pandemic visit we’ve ever been since the pandemic began,” said Jody Eygore, director of quality and policy for nursing homes for LeadingAge, an industry group representing nonprofit institutions.
“But this does not mean that the pandemic is over and COVID is not spreading,” added Egor. “Nursing homes, residents and their loved ones will need to work together to make sure visits are made and passed safely.”
Federal guidelines are drawing a line regarding visits to people who test positive for COVID or who meet quarantine criteria. Nursing homes should not allow visitors with the COVID virus.
But residents can still be visited if their facility is investigating an outbreak or if they themselves are taking special precautions to prevent transmission of COVID. In such cases, residents and visitors must wear masks and protective equipment.
It was unclear on Friday how the new federal leadership would deal with local and state requirements, which could be stricter.
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on people in long-term care facilities. They make up about 1% of the US population, but account for about 3 in 10 deaths. The devastating effects of COVID have been compounded by forced isolation. Nursing homes were closed in March last year, and residents could not see their loved ones in person until early spring.