NY eases visitor ban aimed at curbing virus in nursing homes


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Certain nursing homes in New York can allow visitors — with restrictions — starting July 15 as the state eases a ban aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable elderly residents.

Only nursing homes and long-term care facilities without any new coronavirus cases among residents and staffers in the last 28 days can allow limited visits, state Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Friday. The department said the state's policy follows federal guidance and is limited to nursing homes without staffing shortages that have tested all residents.

Health department spokeswoman Jill Montag said about 150 of the more than 600 nursing homes in the state could qualify to open up to visitors. Roughly 500 nursing homes had reported COVID-19 cases among staffers in June, according to recently released data from the state, which doesn't release data about the number of cases at individual nursing homes.

Residents can have visits from up to two individuals at a time, and visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face masks and keep 6 feet (2 meters) away from residents during the visit. At least one of the visitors must be 18 years of age, according to Zucker.

No more than 10% of residents can have visitors at any one time, and the state's rules limit visitation to outdoor areas, weather permitting. Otherwise, visitation can be allowed inside a “well-ventilated space" with up to 10 socially distanced individuals wearing face coverings.

The state banned visitors at nursing homes March 13 over fear of spreading the virus that took hold in a Washington nursing home in late February. The state reports at least 6,400 residents with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 have died in nursing homes, and it's unclear how many have died in hospitals.

“I know how painful it has been for residents of these facilities to endure such a long period of time without seeing family and loved ones, and my hope is that this adjustment to the visitation policy will provide some comfort to everyone,” Zucker said.

Nursing homes that allow visitors are required to send visitation plans to the state.

Long-term care ombudsmen, who advocate for residents, can once again visit nursing homes and long-term care facilities starting July 15 as well. Ombudsmen must present the nursing home with a verified negative test result from within the past week, according to the state health department.

The state's ease on visitor restrictions comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, daily fatalities and daily positive test results have plunged since a peak in mid-April.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said hospitals admitted 87 COVID-19 patients for the first time Thursday, up from 73 the previous Thursday. Since mid-June, about 1% of individuals newly tested for COVID-19 in New York have tested positive.

Cuomo announced Friday that the state will also allow concession stands to open at state beaches starting July 12.

Also on Friday, indoor shopping malls in regions that are in Phase 4 were able to reopen provided they have air filtration systems thought to help remove COVID particles from the air.

Cuomo, a Democrat, also said the state is sending Florida enough of remdesivir — an experimental medicine administered through an IV that has shown promise against coronaviruses — to treat 280 patients through Saturday. The governor said the shipment will arrive Saturday and will help Florida as it awaits a federal shipment to arrive.

“When New York was climbing the COVID mountain with no end in sight and resources were scarce, we were incredibly moved by the generosity of states around the country that stepped up to provide supplies and medical personnel in our time of need,” Cuomo said.

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