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CMS relaxes nursing home visitation rules; now is the time for vigilance in infection prevention and control

Date: March 21, 2021 | By: Heather Hutson, RN, IP-BC, Chief Infection Control Officer, AMS Infection Prevention Partners

For the first time in what feels like ages, family and friends can once again visit loved ones inside nursing homes. In reality, it has been almost exactly one year to the day since non-emergency visits were banned in an effort to protect residents from COVID-19.


And now that nearly 3 million vaccine doses have been administered amongst the nursing home population, the doors are opening once again. All of us in long-term care are thrilled that our residents can once again see their families, knowing how hard the pandemic-induced isolation has been on them both physically and emotionally.


“CMS recognizes the psychological, emotional, and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families,” CMS chief medical officer Dr. Lee Fleisher said in a statement according to Skilled Nursing News. “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.”


Outdoor visits are still preferred and there are some exceptions, including the following, SNN reports:

  • “Unvaccinated residents will not be allowed visitors if the surrounding county COVID-19 positivity rate exceeds 10% and less than 70% of residents in a facility have been fully vaccinated

  • Residents who have been confirmed COVID-positive will not be able to receive visitors until they meet criteria to discontinue transmission-based protocols

  • Quarantined residents cannot accept visitors until they meet the criteria to be released from quarantine”


It’s been difficult on staff, too, many of whom have been juggling safety measures, taking care of residents and protecting their own families. Everyone, it seems, will breathe a collective sigh of relief as we get a glimpse of pre-pandemic normalcy in our lives.


But as happy we all are to have these restrictions eased with the first change in federal guidance since September - now is not the time to let our collective guards down. Early vaccine numbers in long-term care are showing promise and for the first time in a year, we’re all beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel as cases are finally trending downward.


We must stay vigilant. While we all want to celebrate - as we should - we must also continue to prioritize infection prevention and control measures in our facilities. While early vaccination numbers are promising, not all residents (and only an estimated 38 % of staff) have been vaccinated. Outbreaks can and will occur if we let down our defenses.


In recent site visits, I, along with other AMS infection preventionists, have begun to see some bad habits creeping in once again. We’ve all worked so hard to get to the other side of the pandemic. We all care about our residents’ and staffs’ health and safety. Let’s show them by wearing proper PPE, practicing hand hygiene, reviewing infection control and prevention plans, conducting infection surveillance, and prioritizing our QAPI meetings.


And if you’re too understaffed or overwhelmed or don’t know where to begin, a certified infection preventionist can show you the way. AMS Infection Prevention Partners are here and happy to help. Drop us a line today.

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