ALBANY — Nursing homes in New York soon will be able to reopen to visitors after a year on nearly continuous lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic that left more than 15,000 eldercare residents dead statewide.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the move Friday and said it was in accordance with guidelines from CMS, the federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid services, and the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Cuomo said details and guidance on visitation will be issued on Monday. The state Department of Health recommends that people visiting their loved ones in a facility obtain a rapid COVID test beforehand, he said, and DOH will provide such tests to nursing homes at no charge.
During the summertime lull in the pandemic in New York state, nursing homes were able to begin allowing limited visitation if their staff and residents had been infection-free for weeks, but many facilities couldn’t meet that threshold.
“This is going to be a very big deal for nursing home residents and families,” Cuomo said during a news conference Friday.
Also Friday, Cuomo proposed a far-reaching set of nursing home reforms.
The move came nearly a year after the first known eldercare COVID death in New York state and more than ten months after it was obvious that nursing homes were becoming a killing ground in the pandemic.
New reports and disclosures in the past three weeks have had Cuomo and his aides dodging and counter-attacking renewed criticism over what he did or failed to do early in the pandemic, and over his failure to publicly disclose the statistics that would quantify the results of those actions.
He moved to shift the momentum in that political kerfuffle Friday, saying once again that he was at fault for not releasing that data, creating a vacuum in which political sniping over the nursing home death toll thrived.
Cuomo — derided in some circles as Killer Cuomo and #GrannyKiller — said he would no longer allow political opponents to cause emotional pain to those who’d lost loved ones to COVID in nursing homes by charging that he or his administration had done something to cause those deaths.
“I don’t really care what people say about me. I get politics. I agreed to this nasty business because I believe I can do good things, but I’m not going to let you do nasty and cruel things to New Yorkers,” he said during the news conference.
“Funny, you [journalists] like to say I’m too aggressive. No, no, no, no, I wasn’t aggressive enough.”
Cuomo’s proposed nursing home reforms center on the same issues as criticisms raised by employee unions and by a recent report by the state Attorney General’s Office: The for-profit nursing home industry puts profits ahead of patients.
Cuomo called for:
- Greater transparency, with disclosure of rates, of ownership and of all contracts for goods and services that entail Medicare/Medicaid funding.
- Greater accountability, with increased monetary penalties for Public Health Law violations; an end to the 30-day grace period to rectify violations without penalty; and a requirement that any facility with repeat infection control deficiency notices work with an external monitor to resolve the problem.
- Prioritizing patient care, by requiring nursing homes to spend at least 70% of revenue on direct patient care and at least 40% on staffing; capping profits; limiting unscrupulous transactions that siphon off revenue; limiting management salaries; and setting a regulatory salary cap on managers keyed to the size of the facility.
“I will not sign the budget without this nursing home reform plan,” Cuomo said. “Period.”
Cuomo said Friday 12% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine — 2,147,076. Of those, 1,186,249 have also received the second dose, or about 6% of New Yorkers.
About 10 million New Yorkers are currently eligible to receive the vaccine by reason of age, occupation, housing status or infirmity.
Cuomo also announced the new joint state-federal mass vaccination site in Albany’s Washington Avenue Armory will go into action March 3.
It is the only Capital Region site so far among several being created around the state to target underserved and minority communities.
The site will be reserved for the first week for residents of the following ZIP codes: 12202, 12206, 12207, 12209, 12210, 12180, 12222, 12304, 12305, 12307 and 12308.
These encompass the poorer neighborhoods in Albany, Schenectady and Troy, as well as the University at Albany dorms.
Appointments can be made starting at 8 a.m. Feb 24 via the state AM I ELIGIBLE website or the state hotline (1-833-NYS-4VAX).
In other COVID-related news Friday:
- The state launched the New York Forward Rapid Test Program. The public-private partnership will make low-cost rapid-result COVID tests available to help certain midsized catered events resume and certain businesses reopen. The tests must cost no more than $30 and the results must be available within 30 minutes. Negative test results in hand, those who were tested can be part of gatherings up to 150 people. On Friday, 11 such sites opened in New York City with a capacity of more than 5,000 tests a day. More sites are planned in other parts of the state in coming weeks.
- Six Flags Entertainment Corp. said it will reopen Six Flags Great Escape Lodge & Indoor Waterpark in Queensbury on March 26 and reopen The Great Escape & Hurricane Harbor on selected dates starting May 1, then shift to daily operation June 24. Cuomo earlier this week said amusement parks would be allowed to reopen (with limitations and safety measures) in 2021 after being shut down for all of 2020. Great Escape will hold virtual hiring fairs starting March 13.
- The town of Glenville said its Town Hall will reopen to the public March 1, with all standard infection protocols in place. Town Court sessions will resume March 2 and the public will be allowed back into board meetings starting March 22.
- The seven-day positive COVID test rate stood at 3.6% statewide, 2.1% each in the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley. At the county level, the rate was Albany 2.0%, Fulton 7.4%, Montgomery 5.5%, Rensselaer 1.5%, Saratoga 2.1%, Schenectady 2.4% and Schoharie 3.7%.
- Statewide, 6,155 people were hospitalized with COVID on Thursday, including 206 in the Capital Region and 125 in the Mohawk Valley.
- The state’s official COVID death toll climbed by 116 to 37,675, including two Montgomery County residents and one each in Columbia and Rensselaer counties.