WASHINGTON – The Biden government on Wednesday released revised guidelines for visits to nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic, which will allow guests to see residents whether they or the residents have been vaccinated.
The recommendations, published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services with comments from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represent the first revision of the federal government guidelines for nursing homes since September. And they arrived after more than three million doses of vaccine had been administered in nursing homes, the agency said.
Federal officials said in the new guidelines that even if residents and guests have been fully vaccinated, outdoor visits are still preferable because of a lower risk of transmission.
The guidelines were also the latest indication that the pandemic in the United States was subsiding and coronavirus cases continued to decline across the country, although the seven-day average remained above 58,000. The CDC released the long-awaited guide for Americans fully vaccinated on Monday, telling them it was safe to gather at home in small groups with no masks or social distancing.
Approximately 62.5 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including approximately 32.9 million people completely using the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine or the two-dose vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Series were vaccinated.
In a statement outlining the reasons for updating the recommendations, Dr. Lee A. Fleisher, the chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reported the millions of vaccines given to nursing home residents and staff and a decrease in coronavirus cases in nursing homes.
“CMS recognizes the mental, emotional and physical stress that continued isolation and separation from family has placed on nursing home residents and their families,” he said.
At the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus raced through tens of thousands of long-term care facilities in the United States, killing more than 150,000 residents and employees, and responsible for more than a third of all virus deaths since late spring. However, since the introduction of vaccines, new cases and deaths in nursing homes have fallen sharply and have outpaced national declines, according to an analysis of federal data from the New York Times.
On the eight pages of recommendations, which are not legally binding, limit values were suggested that “responsible indoor visits” should be allowed at all times, unless a guest visits an unvaccinated resident in a county where the Covid-19 -Positivity rate is more than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of the residents of the nursing home have been fully vaccinated. The guidance also states that visits should be limited if residents have Covid-19 or are in quarantine.
So-called compassionate care visits – if the health of a resident has deteriorated significantly – should be allowed regardless of the vaccination status or the positivity rate of the district, according to the guidelines.
If a positive case is found in a nursing home, visits should be canceled and residents and staff tested, the guidelines say. Visits can resume in other parts of the facility if there are no positive tests there. However, if cases are discovered in other areas, nursing homes should suspend all visits.