VDH announces updates to COVID-19 recommendations for healthcare settings, nursing home visitation

(Photo: Courtesy Pixabay)

(Photo: Courtesy Pixabay)

RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — On Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced healthcare facilities in the Commonwealth could expand visitation practices for residents and their families.

This announcement comes after the CDC released Updated Healthcare Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations in Response to COVID-19 Vaccination for all healthcare settings — including, but not limited to, nursing homes and assisted living facilities — on Wednesday, March 10.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also released updated COVID-19 Guidelines and Revised Visitation Recommendations for certified nursing homes due to significant drops in virus infections and transmission as a result of ongoing infection control practices and high vaccination rates in the nursing home population.

According to the VDH, the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported in Virginia nursing home residents has been consistently decreasing since mid-January, with the department currently observing the lowest weekly case counts since early summer 2020. 

As of Thursday, March 11, health officials say 279,969 vaccine doses have been administered to residents and staff in Virginia long-term care facilities.

Even though relaxing current restrictions on indoor visitation might increase the risk for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in post-acute care facilities, the VDH says Virginia’s progress in vaccinating residents and healthcare personnel may mitigate some of these risks. In addition, public health officials say expanding visitation has substantial benefits to residents.

The VDH recommends that based on the CDC’s updated guidance, indoor visitation could be permitted for all residents except in the following situations:

  • Indoor visitation for unvaccinated residents should be limited solely to compassionate care situations if the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent and less than 70% of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated.
  • Indoor visitation should be limited only to compassionate care situations, for:
  • Facilities experiencing outbreaks should continue to follow guidance from their local health department. Nursing homes should also follow guidance from CMS on when visitation should be paused.
    • Visitors should be counseled about their potential to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the facility if they are permitted to visit.
  • Additional recommendations are outlined by CDC and CMS.

The department says all long-term care facilities — including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, and other congregate healthcare settings — are encouraged to adhere to these guidelines.

Health officials also recommend facilities continue to regularly vaccinate new admissions and staff and adhere to CMS regulations and guidance for COVID-19 testing, such as routine staff testing, testing of individuals with symptoms, and outbreak testing.

“Since its inception in April 2020, the Virginia COVID-19 Long-Term Care Task Force has convened as least biweekly to ensure long-term care facilities have the resources they need to combat the virus; strengthen staffing, testing and infection control measures at long-term care facilities; and keep stakeholders informed about the impact of COVID-19 on long-term care facilities.  The Task Force, led by VDH and composed of leadership from Virginia state agencies, Virginia’s long-term care and hospital associations, long-term care providers, and long-term care resident advocates, has been critical to the Commonwealth’s efforts to combat COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

While VDH and the Task Force understands the milestone these updated recommendations represent, we remind Virginians that it is critical that facilities, healthcare personnel, residents and visitors remain vigilant by continuing to follow infection control recommendations such as wearing a well-fitted cloth mask or facemask, physical distancing (maintaining at least 6 feet between people), hand washing, staying home when sick, and wearing appropriate PPE. This continues to be the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly if either party has not been fully vaccinated.”

Virginia Department of Health

For more information about Virginia’s efforts to support long-term care facilities amid the pandemic, click here.

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