The state of Massachusetts on Wednesday began allowing nursing home visits for the first time since the start of the coronavirus crisis, becoming the first state to ease strict quarantine protocols in long-term care.
Local NPR station WBUR initially reported the state’s decision.
The Bay State had issued a blanket ban on all non-essential visitors to nursing homes in mid-March, at the start of the nationwide COVID-19 epidemic; the federal government, through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), issued national guidance prohibiting visits on March 14.
The Massachusetts visits will look much different from the ones conducted pre-COVID, according to the formal memorandum issued to nursing home operators and published by the Fall River Reporter.
To start, family members cannot visit residents with a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19; only those without the virus, or who have recovered from COVID-19, can receive guests.
Visits must be held outside, with no more than two outside individuals; everyone must remain six feet apart, with caregivers and residents required to wear surgical masks. Visitors can use less formal cloth facial coverings or masks, according to the state.
The visits must be scheduled in advance, and facilities can only host outsiders if weather permits and they have the proper staff and outdoor space to safely arrange gatherings.
“A long-term care facility may limit the length of any visit, the days on which visits will be permitted, the hours during a day when visits will be permitted, and the number of times during a day or week a resident may be visited,” according to the memo.
Indoor visits remain allowed in compassionate care and end-of-life scenarios; the relaxed rules also do not apply to communal activities or dining, which are still banned.
The visitation bans, while vital to preventing further outbreaks in nursing homes, have taken a toll on residents and families, who have been separated for two and a half months.
CMS last month issued guidelines for resuming visits based on certain COVID-19 testing and case-reduction benchmarks, though the ultimate decision to reopen rests with individual states.
In Massachusetts, operators can also decline to allow visits based on their individual status; a facility in Leominster, Mass. with eight COVID-19 deaths isn’t planning on reopening its doors to family and friends “any time soon,” according to ABC News.
Indiana followed suit on Wednesday by announcing similar guidelines for resuming outdoor visits at the state’s nursing homes, according to a local news report. Ohio last week announced that assisted living facilities can resume visits outdoors as of June 8, but a nursing home plan remains only under consideration, the AP reported.