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NYS announces revised nursing home visitation guidance, aligns with federal CMS guidance

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Posted at 5:26 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 17:40:04-04

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York State announced revised nursing home visitation guidance Thursday to align with guidelines recently released by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

State officials say the revised guidance takes effect immediately and "permits visitation at all times and for all residents with limited exceptions for unvaccinated residents in areas of high community spread and lower resident vaccination rates, residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection or those in isolation or quarantine."

This revised guidance replaces the previous guidance from February that required a facility to be COVID free for 14 days. Officials say the facilities must still follow strong infection control practices such as screening, hand hygiene, use of face coverings and social distancing.

"From the very beginning we've used science and data to find the appropriate balance between protecting our most vulnerable populations in nursing homes and the importance of allowing safe contact with their loved ones," Governor Cuomo said. "We now have three effective vaccines that are leading to significant decreases in long term care COVID cases and a robust staff testing system to limit community spread from entering a facility. Now is an appropriate time to take the next step and safely reconnect this community with their families."

Officials say the number of positive COVID-19 cases in nursing homes has decreased 80% since peaking in mid-January. NYSDOH still recommends all facilities continue to offer testing for visitors.

"We understand the emotional toll that this community has experienced by being separated from their loved ones during a particularly challenging year. We're confident that these facilities can continue strong infection control practices that will allow for the safe visitation they have dearly missed," New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said.

You can find the official guidance here and information from the guidance below.

Outdoor Visitation

While taking a person-centered approach and adhering to the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention, outdoor visitation is preferred even when the resident and visitor are fully vaccinated* against COVID-19. Outdoor visits generally pose a lower risk of transmission due to increased space and airflow. Please be reminded that visits should be held outdoors whenever practicable.

However, weather considerations or an individual resident’s health status (e.g., medical condition(s), COVID-19 status) may hinder outdoor visits. For outdoor visits, facilities should 3 create accessible and safe outdoor spaces for visitation, such as in courtyards, patios, or parking lots, including the use of tents, if available. When conducting outdoor visitation, all appropriate infection control and prevention practices should be adhered to.

*Note: Fully vaccinated refers to a person who is ≥2 weeks following receipt of the second dose in a 2- dose series, or ≥2 weeks following receipt of one dose of a singledose vaccine, per the CDC’s Public Health Recommendations for Vaccinated Persons.

Indoor Visitation

Facilities should allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents (regardless of vaccination status), except for a few circumstances when visitation should be limited due to a high risk of COVID-19 transmission (exception- compassionate care visits should be permitted at all times). These scenarios include limiting indoor visitation for:

  • Unvaccinated residents if the nursing home’s COVID-19 county positivity rate is >10% AND <70% of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;
  • Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated until they have met the criteria to discontinue Transmission-Based Precautions; OR
  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine.

Visitor Testing and Vaccination

DOH strongly recommends that all facilities offer testing to visitors. CMS encourages facilities in medium- or high-positivity counties to offer testing if feasible. Nursing homes should prioritize visitors that visit regularly (e.g., weekly), although any visitor can be tested. Facilities may also encourage visitors to be tested on their own prior to coming to the facility (e.g., within 2–3 days). In addition, the DOH encourages visitors to become vaccinated when eligible. While visitor testing and vaccination can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, visitors should not be required to be tested or vaccinated (or show proof of such) as a condition of visitation. This also applies to representatives of the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman and protection and advocacy systems, as described below.