Nursing home residents vaccinated against COVID can get hugs again from loved ones, and all residents may enjoy more indoor visits, the government said Wednesday, in a step toward pre-pandemic normalcy. The policy guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services moves back in the pre-COVID-19 direction, saying that nursing homes "should allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status." Several exceptions are flagged, such as when a resident is known to be infected or in quarantine. Hugs are also OK again for residents who have been vaccinated, though precautions such as wearing masks and using hand sanitizer remain in place. CMS also underscored that maintaining 6 feet of separation is still the safest policy, and outdoor visits are preferable even when residents and visitors have been vaccinated.
The CMS guidance comes as coronavirus cases and deaths among nursing home residents have plummeted of late as vaccinations accelerated, per the AP. People in long-term care facilities have borne a cruel toll from the pandemic: They represent about 1% of the US population but account for 1 in 3 deaths, per the COVID Tracking Project. Government officials say that isolation deepened the residents' misery as their facilities were locked down much of last year. Loneliness contributed to physical and mental decline. The ban on visits went into effect almost a year ago, and only in the fall were facilities allowed to begin socially distanced outdoor visits and limited indoor ones. "There is no substitute for physical contact, such as the warm embrace between a resident and their loved one," CMS said in its new guidance. "All of us feel enormous relief that we are at this next juncture," said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, which works to improve care for older adults.
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