Nursing homes were told by the U.S. government Friday to ease restrictions imposed around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, including allowing visitors at all times.
The updated guidance (pdf) from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) cites an increase in vaccination rates among nursing home residents and a drop in COVID-19 cases nationwide since the last update, made in March.
“CMS will continue to monitor vaccination and infection rates, including the effects of COVID-19 variants on nursing home residents, which have recently caused the number of cases to slightly increase. However, at this time, continued restrictions on this vital resident’s right are no longer necessary,” the memorandum states.
The move “gets us the closest to pre-pandemic visitation that we’ve ever been since the beginning of the pandemic,” Jodi Eyigor, director of nursing home quality and policy for LeadingAge, an industry group, told the Associated Press.
“But it doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over and that COVID is not circulating. The nursing homes, the residents, and their loved ones are all going to have to work together to make sure that visits are occurring and they are occurring safely,” she added.
CMS first imposed restrictions on visitations in March 2020. Facilities were told to restrict all visitors and health care personnel deemed non-essential in addition to being ordered to cancel all public dining and group activities. Facilities across the country were forced to lock down for two weeks when positive COVID-19 cases were discovered, forcing many family members to only see their loved ones through windows.
CMS loosened some of the rules before but the new guidance only restricts visitors if they have recently tested positive for COVID-19 or are supposed to quarantine based on separate federal guidance.
Visitors “must” be allowed in during an investigation into one or more COVID-19 cases among residents or staff members, the guidance says.
CMS is encouraging facilities to ask about visitors’ vaccination status but are prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter homes. Visitors who are asked and decline to answer should wear a mask at all times, according to the new guidance.
Nursing home data show approximately 86 percent of residents and 74 percent of staff members are fully vaccinated.
Nursing home operators that want to continue to participate in Medicare or Medicaid were informed on Nov. 4 that staff members must become fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, or be terminated, unless they receive a religious or medical exemption.
The mandate has been challenged in court by 10 states that argue it is illegal.