The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, released guidance on Wednesday stating that nursing home residents can now begin to receive hugs from loved ones. Indoor visitation is also now open to all residents. The guidelines were announced due to the lower rates of COVID-19 infections and transmission.
Nursing homes have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as the elderly are statistically more at-risk of experiencing serious illness from contracting the virus. CMS, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, released new guidance that may provide some hope to nursing home residents, staff, and family members.
CMS stated, “Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has recognized that physical separation from family and other loved ones has taken a physical and emotional toll on residents and their families.”
CMS explained that it and the CDC “continue to recommend facilities, residents, and families adhere to the core principles of COVID-19 infection, including physical distancing,” adding that this is the least dangerous way to limit the spread of the virus. “However,” it adds, “we acknowledge the toll that separation and isolation has taken. We also acknowledge that there is no substitute for physical contact, such as the warm embrace between a resident and their loved one. Therefore, if the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor while wearing a well-fitting facemask.”
According to reporting by the Associated Press via U.S. News, the ban on visits to nursing home facilities was initiated almost a year ago. Not until the fall of 2020 “were facilities allowed to begin socially distanced outdoor visits and limited indoor ones.”
CMS’s statement also clarified, “Visitation can be conducted through various means based on a facility’s’ structure and residents’ needs, including in resident rooms, visitation spaces, and outdoors.”
CMS incorporated guidelines on how to facilitate indoor visitation during coronavirus outbreaks, stating that even though outbreaks might create an added risk of transmission of COVID-19, visitation should not be entirely off-limits as long as the outbreak is kept in one area of the facility.
Visitors are not required to be vaccinated or show proof of vaccination, although the guidance does encourage those planning on visiting nursing homes to be vaccinated if they are given the chance.
“Compassionate Care Visits” should be allowed at any time for anyone living in the facilities. These visits include end-of-life circumstances and when residents are “in decline or distress.”
Dr. Lee Fleisher, a senior agency medical officer, said in a statement, “Now that millions of vaccines have been administered to nursing home residents and staff, and the number of COVID cases in nursing homes has dropped significantly, CMS is updating its visitation guidance to bring more families together safely.”
According to CDC data, COVID-19 deaths among residents in nursing homes spiked in December, but has since reached a lowest recorded rate this month. The highest rate of death was recorded during the week ending in December 20, where the rate was 6.39 per 1,000 residents. The most recent data comes from the week ending in March 7, where the rate was 1.09 per 1,000 residents.
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