Nursing homes and long-term care facilities may begin to allow limited visitations if they have not had any new COVID-19 cases for at least 28 days, according to an announcement Friday by state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.
Residents in these facilities will be allowed two visitors at a time, Visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings, and maintain social distance during the visit.
At least one of the visitors must be at least 18 years old.
Also, only 10 percent of the residents of the facility will be allowed to have visitors each day.
Visitations will not begin immediately, as no actions or changes in safety plans can be initiated until five days from July 10, the date the notice was posted, according to the state health department.
The Department of Health will make adjustments to the visitation policy as appropriate based on data following this initial phase to ensure the health and safety of residents, staff and visitors, Zucker said.
“With the knowledge we now have about how COVID-19 came into nursing homes – mainly through asymptomatic staff and visitors through no fault of their own – it is critical that as we resume visitations to these facilities and we do it in a smart and cautious way to ensure the health and safety of residents and staff,” Zucker said. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation in each facility, and make adjustments based on the facts and data moving forward.
“I know how painful it has been for residents of these facilities to endure such a long period of time without seeing family and loved ones,” he said, “and my hope is that this adjustment to the visitation policy will provide some comfort to everyone.”
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services set the 28-day threshold.
Nursing homes must create a visitation plan and send it to the state Department of Health. Facilities must also confirm they are following the guidance by the state.
Hurlbut Care Communities, which operates two nursing homes in Livingston County, said in a statement from president Bob Hurlbut that it was in the process “of thoroughly reviewing the notice and conferring with the New York State Health Facilities Association to determine appropriate next steps, and will immediately begin developing a formal COVID-19 Visitation Plan in alignment with the State’s recommendations.”
Hurlbut Care Communities operates Avon Nursing Facility in Avon, which has had 18 total cases of COVID-19 and five deaths, and Conesus Lake Nursing Home in Livonia, which has not reported a single case of COVID-19, according to data from the Livingston County Department of Health.
Hurlbut, the company president, said in a letter posted to the company website that as of July 2, residents in its 13 facilities in Livingston, Monroe, Steuben, Seneca and Wayne counties have been COVID-19 free.
Hurlbut said it would continue virtual visits through Zoom and Skype video conferencing software. Family members can arrange the visits by contacting their facility.
The NYSHFA applauded the decision to resume visitations.
“While our residents have become skilled at using various digital communication platforms to connect with their loved ones, digital interaction doesn’t compare to the joy of in-person interaction,” said Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the NYSHFA and the New York State Center for Assisted Living, a statewide association representing more than 450 nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“Nursing homes throughout New York have made incredible strides in eradicating COVID-19 from their facilities and today’s visitation policy recognizes the success of their enormous efforts in battling this virus,” Hanse said.
Hanse called the state Department of Health’s policies for reopening “are thoughtful and truly safeguard residents, taff and visitors while allowing in-person resident visitation.”
An executive order issued March 12 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo prohibited visitors to nursing homes.
Includes additional reporting by Regional Editor Ben Beagle.