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Federal officials on Wednesday issued new recommendations to nursing homes that are aimed at making it easier for residents to visit, hug and hold hands with their loved ones after almost a year of isolation.
Citing widespread nursing home vaccinations and plummeting infection and death rates among residents and staff, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said facilities should allow indoor visits “regardless of vaccination status of the resident or the visitor.”
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There are some exceptions, including for residents who are quarantined, who have a confirmed COVID-19 infection or who are unvaccinated and living in a county with a high rate of COVID-19 transmission. But the guidance represents the most dramatic step toward indoor visits since long-term care facilities were first shuttered to guests in March 2020.
The new guidance also recommends that facilities move away from completely shutting down indoor visits if new infections crop up. If a facility finds that an outbreak is limited to a certain ward or unit, indoor visits should be allowed for other residents, the new guidelines say.
They also open the door to hugging, hand-holding and “close contact” if a resident consents, is fully vaccinated, is wearing a face mask and washes or sanitizes his or her hands before and after the visit. Such interactions had previously been discouraged. CMS officials said they “acknowledge that there is no substitute for physical contact."
"With today's announcement, federal policy now reflects the real progress that has been made in vaccinating nursing home residents and staff. This is the right thing to do,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit aging services and nursing home organizations, said in a statement on Wednesday.
COVID-19 infections in nursing homes have fallen dramatically in recent months as federal officials partnered with CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacies to vaccinate residents and staff of nursing homes, as facilities battered by COVID-19 achieved some herd immunity and as many facilities and local and state governments imposed restrictions to curb the virus's spread.