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Strict Rules Apply, But Visitors Will Be Allowed Back In...

Seth Wenig

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After months of prohibiting in-person visits to relatives in nursing homes amid COVID-19 fears, New York says it will begin easing those restrictions for facilities that are certified as virus-free.

The change comes after the state — one of those hardest-hit by the virus — has seen thousands of deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

According to the revised rules issued Friday by the New York State Department of Health, visitors will be allowed if a nursing home or adult-care facility hasn't had any coronavirus cases for 28 days.

However, even then, the rules are quite restrictive.

They dictate that only two visitors — at least one of whom must be at least 18 years old — are allowed per resident, and only 10% of residents may receive visitors at the same time. The visitors themselves must submit to temperature checks, wear a mask and remain socially distanced.

"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 we do it in a smart and cautious way to ensure the health and safety of residents and staff," State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation in each facility, and make adjustments based on the facts and data moving forward," Zucker said. "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."

The new guidelines are unlikely to mean a flood of visitors into nursing homes – not only because of the limit on the number allowed to visit, but also because the rules are "pretty intense," Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. told the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

"There are a lot of things they have to do (to let visitors in again). It's not as cut and dry as probably the family members of the residents would like. I understand the severity of what we're dealing with obviously," Picente said.

"But finding a nursing home right now that's had 28 days COVID-free is pretty difficult, almost impossible right now, especially given our numbers in our community," he said.

According to a New York Times analysis, more than 55,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, more than 6,000 of them in New York state. Overall, 40% of all deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. occurred in such facilities, the Times reports.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come in for criticism over a state directive in March that transferred COVID-19 patients into long-term care facilities in an effort not to overwhelm the hospitals. Cuomo has said that directive was in line with White House guidance.

The directive was later scrapped, but not before thousands of infected patients were transferred, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier this week, the New York State Department of Health issued a report suggesting no substantial link between the patient transfers and subsequent nursing home deaths.

The report concluded that the peak in nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 did not correlate with the admission of COVID-19 patients, but was closely associated with infections among nursing home employees – suggesting that staff members in the facilities were likely the main vector of the disease.

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