New guidelines permit in-person nursing home visits

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — Nursing homes are going to be allowed to resume some in-person visits under revised state guidelines announced Thursday.

Only outdoor or window visits between residents of nursing homes and loved ones have been permitted as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus disease among this most vulnerable population.

Gov. Ned Lamont and acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford on Thursday announced nursing homes are now being directed to develop visitation policies to allow visits inside long-term care facilities.

“At our nursing homes, we’re trying to make it easier to see a loved one there, and there a lot of reasons for that,” Lamont said.

Gifford also confirmed inspectors for the Department of Public Health found several unnamed nursing homes had been ignoring a state mandate requiring weekly testing of staff members.

“We have discovered a couple of nursing homes that were not in compliance with the governor’s order on testing, and there will be action with respect to those facilities, and we’ll continue to do those inspections to ensure compliance,” she said. “It is a very important strategy.”

The Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living applauded the announcement of an expanded state testing program for nursing home staff, saying all nursing home providers must strive to be in full compliance with this public health mandate

The announcements of the violations and change in visitation policy coincided with the release of weekly statistics on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

In the last week, there were eight new confirmed cases among nursing home residents and 11 among staff members. There were five more patient deaths.

Overall, 8,816 residents of nursing homes have been infected in the outbreak, and 2,872 have died. Public health officials reported 268 cases and three deaths among staff members since June 17 when tracking started.

Through Thursday, there have been 52,350 cases of COVID-19 reported statewide, and there have been 4,465 coronavirus-associated deaths.

THE GOVERNOR ORDERED nursing homes closed to visitors on March 9, and the order was modified in May to allow some residents to meet with loved ones outside, wearing a mask and adhering to social distancing.

Lamont and Gifford said the low infection rate in Connecticut, coupled with a reduction in COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, make this change in policy possible.

Gifford said the revised order requires each nursing home develop facility-wide visitation plans and individual visitation plans based on the psychological and social needs of each resident.

She said the biggest change allows for compassionate care visits that may take place indoors. The Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living said this is a welcomed development.

The revised order expands compassionate care visits beyond end-of-life visits to include visits for residents who undergo significant changes in physical, mental or psychosocial condition. It confirms these may take place indoors and do not require social distancing, as long as visitors and residents wear the appropriate personal protective equipment as determined and supplied by the nursing home.

The revised order clarifies there can be more than one visit a week because Gifford said some nursing homes had interpreted the earlier directive to limit visits to once a week. It specifies visits must be allowed five days a week, including one weekend day.

Also, the updated directive increases the time limit for outdoor and window visits from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.

LAMONT AND THE GOVERNORS of New York and Jersey issued a joint statement Thursday rejecting new COVID-19 testing guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC on Monday revised its previous recommendation to local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. Its updated advisory states testing is not necessary if a person is not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Lamont, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy state their states will not change their testing guidance recommending anyone exposed to infected people get tested for the virus regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms of infection.

“Obviously, an asymptomatic person can be just as infectious, or more infectious than somebody who is already symptomatic, and there is no waiting to do this” Lamont said during the pandemic briefing Thursday. “It is working around the state, and we are going to keep going. If you have had contact with somebody who has tested positive for COVID, get tested yourself and quarantine for 14 days.”

ANOTHER 130 COVID-19 CASES were reported Thursday out of 15,452 test results that were received since Wednesday.

Lamont said the rolling seven-day average of positive tests results was 0.7%. There have been more than 1.1 million diagnostic tests done in Connecticut, though this figure includes multiple tests of some patients and specimens.

There were two more deaths reported since Wednesday. This brought the death toll to 4,465. Nursing home residents represented just under two-thirds of the recorded fatalities.

Public health officials reported a net decline in hospitalization of one patient between new admissions and discharges to 57 statewide.

Weekly hospitalization statistics that were released Thursday showed 11,180 patients have been hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 8,967 patients have been discharged to date.

THE NAUGATUCK VALLEY HEALTH DISTRICT did not provide an update Thursday. As of Wednesday, the health district there had been 417 confirmed coronavirus cases in Naugatuck and 59 in Beacon Falls. There had been 37 confirmed deaths associated with coronavirus and four probable deaths in Naugatuck, according to the health district, and none in Beacon Falls.

The Chesprocott Health District reported Friday there have been 84 cases in Prospect and no coronavirus-related deaths in town.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to their report.