Even a single new case of COVID-19 would shut down visitation at a facility for at least 28 days, under the three-step reopening process released on Saturday. Advocates say the plan is too restrictive.
Pennsylvania health officials have a plan for lifting unprecedented visitor restrictions in nursing and personal care homes, but some advocates say the guidelines appear almost impossible to meet without rapid testing capabilities.
The state’s plan released on Saturday would allow the health care facilities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and closed to visitors since early March to reopen under limited circumstances.
Visits will be appointment-only, time-limited, and held in designated location where staff or volunteers monitor to make sure that safety screenings and other rules are followed and the visitor area is disinfected after each visit.
Even a single new case of COVID-19 would shut down visitation for at least four weeks, under the three-step reopening process.
The state reopening plan requires that facilities first meet seven prerequisite conditions before visitation can resume.
Among them is the creation of an implementation plan that includes screening, scheduling and safety protocols for staff, residents and outside visitors. Homes also must show they have “adequate” staffing to implement it.
Facilities also must be able to administer COVID-19 tests within 24 hours of a resident showing symptoms; complete state-ordered baseline coronavirus testing of all residents and staff; and have a plan to isolate residents testing positive.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has ordered universal baseline COVID-19 testing of all residents and staff at licensed long-term care facilities.
The state’s 693 skilled nursing homes must complete testing by July 24, and the nearly 1,200 assisted living and personal care homes must complete testing by Aug. 31.
Outside visitation can resume only after all prerequisites are met and there are no new COVID-19 cases among staff or residents for 14 days in a row.
If a COVID-19 case is identified, visitation will be suspended again until at least 14 days pass without a new case.
Then, the facility must wait an additional 14 days without a new infection before visitations can resume, for a total of 28 days, according to a state health spokeswoman.
Admission of new residents who test positive for COVID-19 also will restart the visitor ban, according to a health department spokeswoman.
“Resuming operations for long-term care facilities should be done gradually and deliberately, and most importantly, this must be done safely,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, whose department oversees nearly 1,200 assisted living and personal care homes in the state.