The state Department of Health announced the decision Tuesday. One of the biggest changes is reducing from 28 days to 14 the period for which a nursing home must have had zero positive COVID-19 tests before it can admit visitors.
Also Tuesday, New York state said its positive test rate ticked above 1 percent rate for the first time in 36 days: 73,678 people were tested Monday and 766 positive test results were reported, or 1.04 percent.
New York state also trimmed down its travel quarantine list, removing California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio from the roster. It also removed the northern Mariana Islands and added Puerto Rico. This leaves the list at 28 states and two territories, all with COVID infection rates deemed high by New York state. Those who arrive in New York from those 30 places are instructed to quarantine themselves for two weeks.
The nursing home visitation change announced Tuesday is part of a gradual relaxation of policy.
The state barred visitors from nursing homes starting in mid-March to protect the fragile, elderly residents of these facilities from the virus, which is deadliest for the elderly and for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
But even with the visitation ban, COVID cut a terrible swath through nursing homes statewide, infecting and killing thousands of residents and employees. The state doesn’t know or isn’t saying how many residents of these facilities died of COVID-19, but the total is expected to be more than 6,000, perhaps substantially more.
The cause of the high death toll — which hit some facilities hard and left others virtually untouched — remains hotly debated and a source of political liability for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, leader of the state’s response to the COVID crisis. For months, the state has been keeping Cuomo’s name off announcements pertaining to COVID in nursing homes, even as his office issues multiple updates daily under his name on other aspects of the COVID crisis.
In the wake of the high death tolls in elder-care facilities, the state has been very cautious with nursing homes. For example, when it allowed nursing home visitation to resume July 10, it imposed the 28-day blackout period, which it said is a federally established guideline and is double the 14-day incubation period for COVID.
The state is now stepping that back, and moving to a 14-day blackout period. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a news release Tuesday that the state understands the emotional hardship created by the six-month ban and near-ban on visitation, but the protective measures have worked, and the state will watch visitation going forward to see that it does not lead to an increase in COVID infections.
Other requirements nursing homes must meet to allow visitation:
- Full compliance with all state and federal reporting regulations;
- Completion of a safety plan;
- Adequate staffing;
- Adequate testing of staff and residents;
- Arrangements for rapid processing and reporting of test results;
- Limitation of visitors to not more than 10 percent of facility population and not more than two per resident;
- A negative COVID test within the past seven days for each visitor;
- Exclusion of visitors under age 18.
There are numerous other conditions attached to visitation, ranging from number of people in the room (not more than 10) to the number of datapoints that must be collected on visitors (five).
Asked for reaction Tuesday, the president of LeadingAge New York said he had too many questions about putting the new requirements into place to comment.
The president of another New York trade organization for continuing-care providers, the NYS Health Facilities Association/NYS Center for Assisted Living, thanked state officials for making the change, which NYSHFA had been pushing for.
“This change will go a long way in advancing the physical and psychological well-being of nursing home residents, their families and our staff,” President and CEO Stephen Hanse said via email.
“It has been since early March of this year that nursing home residents have been unable to receive visitors in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While nursing homes and their residents have become highly skilled at using various digital communication platforms to connect with loved ones, digital interaction doesn’t compare to the joy of in-person interaction.
“Nursing homes throughout New York have made incredible strides in eradicating COVID-19 and today’s revised visitation policy recognizes the success of their enormous efforts in battling this virus.
“The policies announced today by the Department of Health are thoughtful and truly safeguard residents, staff and visitors while allowing in-person resident visitation in nursing homes.”