Raleigh, N.C. — Visitors can begin returning to some nursing homes in North Carolina, officials said Monday.
Indoor visits are allowed at nursing homes with no coronavirus infections in the last 14 days that are in counties where the positive testing rate for the virus is under 10 percent, reflecting guidance from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
“We have focused on protecting the health of nursing home residents since the start of this crisis. Our progress in testing, infection control and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities allows us to move forward with safe indoor visitation in accordance with federal guidance,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.
Gov. Roy Cooper halted visits to nursing homes in March to limit the spread of coronavirus. Still, outbreaks occurred at dozens of facilities statewide.
As North Carolina expanded testing and got more protective gear to nursing homes to slow the outbreaks, state officials this summer began allowing outdoor visits at nursing homes.
Cohen said the state’s key metrics about the pandemic are stable, and strong infection prevention and control requirements are in place, so visits can move indoors at some locations.
Local community transmission levels are the key factor for nursing home outbreaks, she said. Facilities allowing in-person visitation will be required to follow strict infection prevention guidelines.
“While the ownership is on specific facilities to allow the visitations to take place, unless there’s a very specific and clinical reason – and the facility would have to make it clear what that is – outside of that there are no restrictions,” said Lauren Zingraff, executive director of advocacy group Friends of Residents in Long-term Care.
The relaxed rules will help nursing home residents, especially as winter and the holidays approach.
“We’ve has a pandemic of residents suffering with depression, anxiety and social isolation and loneliness, so we believe that residents mental emotional and spiritual well-being will all improve with these new recommendations from DHHS,” she said.