Blanket restrictions on non-essential visits to senior living and care properties should remain in effect until the very last phase of the federal government’s plan to gradually reopen public places and restart the economy, the White House announced this week.
Designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations, the visitation ban for nursing homes has been in effect since March 14, when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that only health care professionals and other essential staff should be allowed in.
That rule will likely be in effect for many more months, as the federal “Opening Up America Again” plan — debuted at a Thursday evening press conference with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci — does not call for lifting the bans until the third and final phase.
“Our strategy will continue to protect senior citizens and other vulnerable populations while allowing military and other groups of incredibly talented people to go about their real business and the business that’s supposed to be hard at work at doing,” the president said during the conference, according to a White House transcript.
The complex plan will roll out at different speeds in different regions, according to Fauci, with local leaders using federal benchmarks to determine where they are in the process. Before even reaching the formal Phase I, regions must go through what Fauci described as a “gating” process, observing 14-day declines in both flu-like symptoms and COVID-19 cases — as well as having a “robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers, including emerging antibody testing,” according to the plan text.
Once a state or region has gone through the gates, leaders can proceed to Phase I, with an escalating series of positive benchmarks required before moving to Phase II, and so on.
“If you get no rebound, and you satisfy the gating for yet again a second time, then you go to Phase II,” Fauci said. “If you have no rebound and you satisfy the gating criteria for a third time, you go into Phase III. So there are multiple checkpoints of safety there.”
Senior care visits remain banned through Phase II, with caregivers required to “adhere to strict protocols regarding hygiene.”
Only in the third phase can visits to senior care facilities and hospitals resume, and even then, the White House warned that “those who interact with residents and patients must be diligent regarding hygiene.”
For reference, in Phase II, a variety of businesses will be allowed to reopen under modified rules — movie theaters, sports venues, and houses of worship can welcome guests with “moderate physical distancing protocols.” Bars can also operate as long as they cut standing-room occupancy.
By contrast, Phase III looks as close to normal as possible, with “unrestricted staffing” of work sites and “limited physical distancing protocols” at arenas, sit-down restaurants, and other large venues.
“We feel confident that, sooner or later, we will get to the point — hopefully sooner, with safety as the most important thing — to a point where we can get back to some form of normality,” Fauci said.