Mar 10, 2021 - Health

Federal officials relax COVID rules for nursing home residents

Photo of a nursing home resident holding her hand up to the clear glass as on the other side her daughter raises her own hand

Karen Klink visits her 86-year-old mother Cynthia Tachner at Silverado Beach Cities Memory Care in Redondo Beach, California on Monday. Photo: Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG via Getty Images

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidance on Wednesday to expand in-person visitation for nursing home residents.

Why it matters: Millions have been forced to remain separated from their loved ones in long-term care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that nursing home residents are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus at high rates, the risk of transmission has dropped, according to the CMS.

Details: Outdoor visits are preferred, regardless of a resident or visitor's vaccination status. But acknowledging that sometimes outdoor visits are impractical given weather or health conditions, the guidance encourages facilities to allow "responsible indoor visitation" at all times and for all residents.

Visitation should be limited for:

  • Unvaccinated residents, if the COVID-19 county positivity rate is more than 10% and less than 70% of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated.
  • Residents with confirmed infections, whether vaccinated or not.
  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or not.

The latest guidance stresses the importance of "compassionate care" visits, which include those for a resident whose health has sharply declined or are experiencing a significant change in circumstances.

  • Facilities should allow such visits at all times regardless of a resident's vaccination status, the county's positivity rate or an outbreak.
  • If an outbreak occurs, visitation can still happen so long as evidence shows the outbreak is contained to a single unit or separate facility area, the agency added.

What they're saying: "CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families," Lee Fleisher, CMS chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, said in a statement.

  • "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."

The big picture: The CDC issued separate advice Monday for fully vaccinated people, giving them greater freedom.

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