Is it safe to visit your relatives in a nursing home now?

nursing home visitation guidelines
Photo via luuns/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Nursing home visitations are now acceptable through new guidance from federal health officials, a departure from the policy established in September 2020 to mitigate the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the New York Times reported, it’s the first change to the nursing home visitation guidelines in six months, and it comes with nursing home resident vaccinations moving past the 3 million mark. 

“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,” the report said, according to NPR

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services advisory observed that while “nursing homes have been severely impacted by COVID-19, with outbreaks causing high rates of infection, morbidity, and mortality,” it also acknowledged that “physical separation from family and other loved ones has taken a physical and emotional toll on residents and their families.” 

The Times article remarked that this CMS revision provided “the latest indication that the pandemic in the United States was easing, with coronavirus cases continuing to decrease across the nation, though the seven-day average remains at more than 58,000.” The article noted that the CDC’s guidance on March 8, allowing more activities and interactions for those who are fully vaccinated, is a similar sign of a nation possibly turning the corner on the pandemic. 

As of March 10, approximately 62.5 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with nearly 33 million people fully vaccinated by either a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the two-dose series made by Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna.

While the nursing home visitation guidelines aren’t legally enforceable, they do provide recommendations balancing the emotional needs of residents with public health concerns. The guidelines include parameters for “responsible indoor visitation” being allowed at all times unless a guest is visiting an unvaccinated resident in a county where the COVID-19 positivity rate is higher than 10% and less than 70% of residents in a particular nursing home have been fully vaccinated.

The guidance also advises limiting visits if residents have COVID-19 or are in quarantine.

Sources: New York Times, NPR, CMS.gov

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