The Cuomo administration is relaxing coronavirus restrictions at nursing homes to allow family members in-person visits with loved ones for the first time since the pandemic hit in March.
The announcement Tuesday by state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker comes just three days after relatives of nursing home residents held a rally outside the governor’s Manhattan office protesting the restrictive policy.
The new policy will resume limited visitation for facilities that have been without COVID-19 for at least 14 days — half the 28-day rule that has been in effect since early July.
Nursing home advocates and family members said the 28-day infection free policy was too restrictive, with only a small percentage of the 613 nursing homes meeting the criteria to allow visitors.
But Zucker said the updated guidance will allow visitation in approximately 500 of the state’s 613 nursing homes.
“We understand how trying it has been for New Yorkers to not see their loved ones and the challenges they’ve had to endure during this unprecedented pandemic,” Zucker said in a statement.
“The number of nursing homes that have taken the necessary steps to protect residents from the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 while working to reopen to outside visitors, shows that adhering to the DOH visitation guideline is the smart and cautious approach to allowing visitations. We continue to be guided by science and concern for residents’ welfare and will monitor nursing homes that host visitors, to make sure this action does not lead to an increase in cases.”
Andrew CuomoLev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock
Last week the DOH also relaxed visitation requirements from 28 to 14 days at assisted living and adult care facilities. The less restrictive nursing home visitation policy will go into effect Thursday.
It will require visitors to present a negative test result within the prior seven days or be refused entry. Visitors will also be barred if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms, or don’t pass screening questions.
The number of visitors to the nursing home must not exceed 10 percent of the resident population at any time and only two visitors will be allowed per resident at a given time.
Visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and socially distance during the visit. Children under the age of 18 are prohibited.
Nursing Homes accepting visitors will be required to send their visitation plan to the health department and attest that they are following the rules.
More than 6,600 deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities are linked to the coronavirus.
But critics say the death toll could be double that because state officials have refused to divulge how many nursing home residents died of COVID after being transported to hospitals for treatment.
Cuomo admitted that the coronavirus spread through nursing homes “like fire through dry grass.”
But his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic has arguably been his achilles heel. He came under fire for a March 25 health department order that required nursing homes to accept recovering coronavirus patients from hospitals — a policy that was later rescinded.
The Justice Department is looking at whether the policies of New York and three other states contributed to the COVID-19 death count in nursing homes.
Family members with loved ones in nursing homes welcomed the lessening of visitation restrictions.
Family members of nursing home residents holding signs protesting Andrew Cuomo’s visitation rules.Dan Herrick
“I’m just so excited, I’m just so relieved, I just can’t believe it,” said Stephanie Stewart, 58, of Dutchess County, whose mom, Mimi Nichols, 85, resides in the New York State Veteran’s Home in Montrose:
“It seems like, not just us but so many people across the whole state have been doing things contacting different groups that could help us and nothing was happening but — you made my day.”
“I’m so excited to see my mom, she needs us. “We have a facetime call on Friday so hopefully we see her before then.”
“We kept our foot on the gas pedal and we never gave up.”
Said Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the NYS Health Facilities Association/ NYS Center for Assisted Living, also applauded the move.
“This change will go a long way in advancing the physical and psychological well-being of nursing home residents, their families and our staff,” said Hanse, who represents 425 nursing facilities..
“It has been since early March of this year that nursing home residents have been unable to receive visitors in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While nursing homes and their residents have become highly skilled at using various digital communication platforms to connect with loved ones, digital interaction doesn’t compare to the joy of in-person interaction.”