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State lowers COVID threshold for nursing home visits

ALBANY — New York will begin allowing visitors to see loved ones at nursing homes that have been coronavirus-free for 14 days, up from 28 days under previous rules, the health commissioner said Tuesday.

The policy goes into effect Thursday, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. State health officials will monitor to ensure more visits don’t increase COVID-19 cases, he said.

“We understand how trying it has been for New Yorkers to not see their loved ones and the challenges they’ve had to endure during this unprecedented pandemic,” Zucker said.

State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, issued a statement welcoming the decision.

“For months on end, nursing home residents, their families, and staff have made immense sacrifices to keep their facilities, and the community at large, safe,” Jones said. “While safety remains our number-one priority, the impact of being unable to reunite families due to the nearly unattainable guidelines set forth by the New York State Department of Health perpetuated mounting frustration among family members and nursing home staff, while simultaneously impacting the overall well-being of residents.

“I have been advocating with families and facilities that we can reunite residents with their loved ones safely, and I am relieved that our voices were heard.”

The state halted most visits at care homes March 13, though visits that were medically necessary or for end-of life services were allowed.

In July, the state began to allow restricted visits at nursing homes and assisted living facilities without a COVID-19 case among residents or staffers for 28 days.

Visitors must present a verified negative test result within the previous seven days, and facility staffers must refuse anyone who fails to do so. Staffers must also turn away people who show symptoms or don’t pass screening questions.

Visits will be limited to outdoor areas with weather permitting, though visits of no more than 10 people in an inside well-ventilated space can be allowed on a case-by-case basis. Visits will be prohibited in resident rooms or care areas, in most cases.

Nearly 6,500 residents have died or likely died of COVID-19 at nursing homes as of Sunday, according to state data. The data also includes at least 177 deaths among residents at adult care homes.

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The Enterprise staff contributed Jones’ statement to this report.

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