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Federal officials are urging nursing home and long-term care residents, staff and their loved ones to “exercise extreme caution” during the holiday season. COVID-19 continues to sweep through the facilities, which are home to 40 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths.
But with the U.S. more than nine months into a pandemic that has reshaped how and when long-term care residents can spend time with loved ones, many families are weighing the risk of spreading COVID-19 against a desire to spend an hour or a day with a resident who has been isolated for months. “I know the risk,” says 57-year-old Mary Daniel of Jacksonville, whose husband, Steve, lives in a nearby memory care facility. “But I also believe that I, as a responsible adult, can bring my husband home to a safe environment to spend possibly his last Christmas with me and his children."
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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently warned that in-person holiday gatherings pose a risk to the health of long-term care residents and staff. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has similarly warned Americans against celebrating the holidays with people outside their own homes. “For those who have been visiting a loved one in a long-term care facility for holidays every so often, it's not going to be like it's been in the past,” says Bob Stephen, vice president of caregiving and health at AARP.
Complicating in-person holiday visits this year is the fact that visitors, even if they wear masks and practice social distancing, risk spreading COVID-19 to other residents and staff members. It takes just one coronavirus-positive resident or staff member to threaten an entire facility. “We are pleading with a lot of our families to try not to visit,” says Deke Cateau, CEO of the Atlanta-based A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab, a nonprofit long-term care facility.
An exclusive AARP analysis of federal nursing home data found that the rate of nursing home resident deaths doubled from Nov. 16 to Dec. 6, from 0.78 per four weeks per 100 residents to 1.53. Rates of resident and staff cases have increased by nearly two-thirds over the same period.
But family and friends of nursing home residents and others in long-term care still have options to connect with them this holiday season. Most states are allowing in-person visits at facilities that aren't experiencing active COVID-19 outbreaks. And facilities are now required to make phone and video calls available to residents who are unable to meet face-to-face with their loved ones.
Here's how to safely spend time with a loved one in a long-term care facility this holiday season: