The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services relaxed its recommendations for nursing home visits Wednesday after more than three million vaccine doses have been administered in nursing homes so far as part of a federal effort to successfully slow the spread of the virus at long-term care facilities.
Under the previous guidance released in September, nursing homes were encouraged to set up outdoor visits, and only allow indoor visitation if there weren’t any new cases in the facility in the past 14 days.
The updated guidance recommends that nursing homes allow indoor visits at all times, regardless of vaccination status, unless residents have been infected or are in quarantine.
There is one major exception: If a nursing home is located in a county with a positivity rate greater than 10% and if less than 70% of the facility is fully vaccinated, the agency says indoor visits should be prohibited.
“CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families,” said CMS Director Dr. Lee Fleisher said in a statement. “That is why, now that millions of vaccines have been administered to nursing home residents and staff, and the number of COVID cases in nursing homes has dropped significantly, CMS is updating its visitation guidance to bring more families together safely.”
Since older people are at higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19, nursing homes have been particularly hit hard by the virus. According to CMS data, nursing home residents and staff have seen 1.2 million Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, resulting in 131,000 deaths. But infections have declined dramatically since December after the federal government enlisted Walgreens and CVS to administer vaccines in long-term care facilities. The week of December 20, nursing homes reported 33,625 cases. By the end of February, weekly cases were down to 1,927.