As states begin to lift coronavirus stay-at-home orders, the federal government is asking governors to “proceed with extreme caution” before allowing visitors into the long-term care facilities that are home to the nation's most vulnerable citizens and have become ground zero for the pandemic.
Nursing homes should be “among the last to reopen” in a community where restrictions are being lifted for businesses and other activities, officials from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said Monday in announcing recommendations to state and local governments. “The vulnerable nature of the nursing home population requires aggressive efforts to limit COVID-19 exposure and to prevent the spread within facilities."
"The impact of the coronavirus on nursing homes has been heartbreaking,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said on a teleconference with reporters on Monday. “And we mourn the lives we've lost and continue to fight to fiercely protect residents and facilities around the country, while delivering the best possible quality of life for our most vulnerable populations."
Nursing homes have been hit hard by the coronavirus and COVID-19, the illness it causes. More than 143,000 nursing home workers and residents in 7,400 facilities have been stricken by the virus, according to the latest New York Times analysis, and 25,600 nursing home residents and staff have succumbed to the illness.
"While we are not at a point where nursing homes can safely open up, we want to make sure communities have a plan in place when they are ready to reopen,” Verma said in the announcement.
The CMS guidance makes clear that a nursing home should not even begin down the path of allowing visitors until all residents and staff at a facility have had a baseline test for the coronavirus to make sure there are no known cases. Staff should also be tested weekly and all residents should be tested again if any resident has coronavirus-like symptoms or any employee or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.