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Cuomo: Nursing home visits can begin, effective immediately

Anne Brancati of Kingbury speaks at a Voices for Seniors press conference Thursday at the state Capitol in Albany. She described the pain of not being able to visit her mother-in-law before she died this year at a Fort Hudson nursing home. The visitation restrictions were lifted later Thursday. (Provided photo — Kathleen Moore, The Post-Star)

Families can now visit their loved ones in nursing homes in almost all cases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a news release Thursday evening.

“The guidance, which takes effect immediately, permits visitation at all times and for all residents with limited exceptions,” the state said in the news release.

The exceptions include unvaccinated residents in areas of high community spread and lower resident vaccination rates, residents who have a confirmed coronavirus case, and residents in isolation or quarantine.

However, the no-hugging rule is still in place for residents who are not vaccinated.

“Facilities must still continue to adhere to strong infection control practices,” the state news release said. “If the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor while wearing a well-fitting face mask and performing hand-hygiene before and after. Regardless, visitors should physically distance from other residents and staff in the facility.”

Until now, any positive case — including an employee — would force the nursing home to close for 14 days while generally keeping every resident in their rooms. For most nursing homes, the 14-day rule has meant no visits can ever happen.

The rule now is that if a resident tests positive, visitation should be paused while the nursing home tests everyone in the facility. If no one else tests positive, or no more than two others who live in the same unit as the first person who tested positive, visits to the rest of the facility can resume. But if there are cases in two or more units, the nursing home must stop visitation for everyone, including vaccinated residents, until the end of the outbreak.

The new guidance also drops the requirement for visitors to get tested before each visit, which forced many people to visit infrequently even if their loved one’s nursing home could allow visitors. Tests had to be taken within 72 hours of the visit, and some visitors had difficulty getting results in time for the visit.

The state is now directing nursing homes to simply encourage testing. “Visitors should not be required to be tested or vaccinated (or show proof of such) as a condition of visitation,” the new guidance says.

The state also emphasized that compassionate care visits can be allowed at any time — regardless of outbreaks and other concerns — and defined those at length.

“While end-of-life situations have been used as examples of compassionate care situations, the term ‘compassionate care situations’ does not exclusively refer to end-of-life situations,” the guidance said.

It lists a series of situations cited by many families.

“Examples of other types of compassionate care situations include, but are not limited to: A resident, who was living with their family before recently being admitted to a nursing home, is struggling with the change in environment and lack of physical family support; A resident who is grieving after a friend or family member recently passed away; A resident who needs cueing and encouragement with eating or drinking, previously provided by family and/or caregiver(s), is experiencing weight loss or dehydration; A resident, who used to talk and interact with others, is experiencing emotional distress, seldom speaking, or crying more frequently (when the resident had rarely cried in the past).”

The guidance also allows any members of the clergy to visit, and anyone who can offer “religious and spiritual support.”

The new guidance also lifts restrictions on residents, who have often had to stay in their rooms for the past year.

Communal dining can resume with 6 feet between residents, and group activities may be held if residents are 6 feet apart and wear masks.

“Nursing homes may be able to offer a variety of activities while also taking necessary precautions. For example, book clubs, crafts, movies, exercise, and bingo are all activities that can be facilitated with alterations to adhere to the guidelines for preventing transmissions,” the guidance said.

The announcement of the new guidance came a year after a controversial state guidance announcement that nursing homes could not refuse admission to someone because that person had COVID-19. Earlier Thursday, a Voices for Seniors press conference was held on the state Capitol steps, marking the anniversary and speaking out against the decision.

The Cuomo administration still insists it did nothing wrong and that the decision — meant to free up more hospital beds in the COVID-19 pandemic’s scary early days — did not add significantly to the COVID-19 death toll. For months the administration withheld data on how many New York nursing home residents died of the disease, but in January the data was released against the administration’s will, upgrading the official count from about 8,500 to more than 15,000. The state had previously not counted nursing home residents who died in hospitals, only those whose died in nursing homes.

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The Enterprise staff contributed to this report.

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