Albany

N.Y. allows COVID-free nursing homes to resume visitation

Residents have been barred from seeing family, friends since mid-March due to pandemic
New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is shown during a March news conference.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is shown during a March news conference.

Categories: News

ALBANY — State health officials Friday announced friends and relatives can begin visiting residents in adult-care homes again, but only if the facility has been COVID-free for at least 28 days.

The rule follows a threshold set by federal Medicare/Medicaid administrators and is designed to protect the vulnerable elderly residents of these facilities. Nursing home residents have made up a much larger percentage of those sickened and killed by the virus nationwide than of the general population.

The state barred visitors from nursing homes in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic was rapidly accelerating in New York. Some facilities had previously barred visitors on their own.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker announced the change Friday, and said there are several other conditions for visits:

  • There can be no more than two visitors per resident at a time, and one must be at least 18 years old.
  • Visitors must have their temperature taken, wear a face covering, and maintain social distancing.
  • No more than 10 percent of the facility’s residents can receive visitors per day.
  • Nursing homes that are going to allow visitors must send a visitation plan to the state Department of Health and follow the limitations.

Also Friday, Zucker announced the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which provides support to residents, can resume on-site visitation effective July 15.

The state DOH this week issued a report saying that staff members and possibly also visitors unknowingly infected with COVID-19 were the vector that brought the virus into nursing homes.

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The report prepared by the DOH also attempted to refute criticism that the DOH’s own policies regarding nursing home resident admission had boosted the death toll.

The state does not know or is not saying exactly how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 since March 1; in its report, it cites a New York Times analysis that placed the nursing home death toll at 6,432, approximately one quarter of all COVID deaths statewide.

In a news release Friday, 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, and my hope is that this adjustment to the visitation policy will provide some comfort to everyone.”

BETTER AND WORSE

The relaxing of restrictions at the facilities most vulnerable to COVID-19 is a telling indication of how far New York has come since the pandemic peaked here three months ago.

Comparing April 9 and July 9:

  • 40.2% of diagnostic tests came back positive vs. 1.1%;
  • 18,569 New Yorkers were hospitalized vs. 826;
  • 777 New Yorkers died vs. 8.

New York continues to make progress, or hold steady, as the situation grows sharply worse in some other states.

In the preceding seven days, New York accounted for just 4,737 of the 367,105 new confirmed cases nationwide, the federal Centers for Disease Control reported Friday.

This comes as the economy is gradually restarted in New York, potentially creating new opportunity for disease transmission.

As of Friday morning in the eight-county Capital Region, 26 patients were hospitalized, five of them in intensive care. In the preceding 24 hours, 2,762 people were tested for COVID and 18 infections were confirmed, a positive test rate of 0.7%

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