Harrisburg, PA – Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam, Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller and Aging Secretary Robert Torres today highlighted the updated nursing home visitation guidance issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and are strongly encouraging all long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania to implement the new guidance immediately.
“We understand how difficult this past year has been on families and nursing home residents,” Acting Secretary Beam said. “This newly updated guidance is an important step as we continue to care for and protect the physical and mental health of our most vulnerable residents. All Pennsylvania nursing homes should implement this guidance immediately.”
However, the guidance acknowledges that there is no substitute for physical contact, such as the warm embrace between a resident and their loved one. Therefore, if the resident is fully vaccinated, they can choose to have close contact, including touch, with their visitor while wearing a well-fitting mask. Regardless, visitors should physically distance from other residents and staff in the facility.
“This tumultuous year has been full of challenges and grief – feelings that are only amplified by physical distance that can be necessary to keep our loved ones and our communities as a whole safe,” said Secretary Miller. “This new guidance is an important moment of progress in our fight against COVID-19, and we are grateful to all who continue to respect mitigation and safety recommendations and are getting vaccinated so we can keep our most vulnerable safe.”
The guidance also states that facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident, or visitor, unless certain scenarios arise that would limit visitation for:
- Unvaccinated residents, if the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;
- Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met the criteria to discontinue transmission-based precautions; or
- Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine.
The updated guidance also emphasizes that “compassionate care” visits, such as an end-of-life situation or a resident in decline or distress, should be allowed at all times, regardless of a resident’s vaccination status, the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate, or an outbreak.
“The restrictions on visitations in long-term care facilities during the past year have been extremely difficult for residents, their families and friends. This human interaction and engagement is such a major and much-missed part of life, especially since these connections provide critical support for the physical, mental and emotional well-being of older adults,” said Aging Secretary Torres. “The resumption of visitations, with the exercise of great care and caution, will finally provide much-needed relief and hope for long-term care residents and their loved ones.”
According to CMS, high vaccination rates among nursing home residents and the commitment of nursing home staff to follow infection control protocols have helped to significantly reduce COVID-19 positivity rates and the risk of transmission in nursing homes.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) is working with the Department of Health to update guidance for DHS-licensed long-term care facilities like personal care homes, assisted living residences and intermediate care facilities. In the interim, these facilities should also immediately implement federal guidance where appropriate.
A fact sheet on the newly updated guidance can be found on CMS’s website.
While vaccine supply from the federal government remains limited, the Department of Health is working to ensure the vaccine is provided in a way that is ethical, equitable, and efficient. To keep Pennsylvanians informed about vaccination efforts:
- The Your Turn tool provides a way to register to be alerted when it’s your turn to be vaccinated.
- A commonwealth COVID-19 vaccination guide explains the current process for getting one. Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258.
- Vaccine provider map to find a COVID-19 vaccine provider near you.
- All of the locations that received vaccine and how much they have received can be found on the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution webpage.
- Vaccine dashboard data can also be found on the website to find more information on the doses administered and showcase demographic information.
- Pennsylvanians can provide feedback on the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Interim Vaccination Plan by clicking on the Plan Feedback Form square under Popular Vaccine Topics here.
- Frequently asked questions can be found here.
The Wolf Administration stresses the role Pennsylvanians play in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.
- Clean surfaces frequently.
- Stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19, especially if you are unwell.
- If you must go out, you are required to wear a mask when in a business or where it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing.
- Download the COVID Alert PA app and make your phone part of the fight. The free app can be found in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching for “covid alert pa.”
Updated Coronavirus Links: Press Releases, State Lab Photos, Graphics