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State Issues Guidelines To Allow In-Person Visits At Nursing Homes

State officials say with a sharp decline in COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents and vaccinations happening at a good clip, in-person visits can resume.

Visitation to long-term care facilities was closed in mid-March 2020 because of the risk the disease posed to older Oklahomans.

"We know isolation has taken a toll on our nursing home residents, many of whom are suffering long-term impacts to their mental and physical health related to the separation from their loved ones, family caregivers, clergy and friends," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.

New guidelines will let residents designate essential caregivers who may visit them. Those individuals will have to complete a 15-minute training course that will be available online. Masks will be required, however, in all cases.

"We have great confidence in the vaccine. The state department of health has done an extraordinary job in rolling that out, but there will be unvaccinated people in and out of our populations. So, mitigation will continue to be a very important threshold that we ask our visitors and we continue to ask our staff to address," said Steven Buck, president of Care Providers Oklahoma, a long-term care trade group.

If both a resident and their visitor have been vaccinated, they may have unsupervised contact. If one person is vaccinated, a negative COVID test may be required before an unsupervised visit. If neither the resident nor the visitor is vaccinated, a negative COVID test may be required, and the visit will be supervised with no contact allowed.

State officials said they will provide additional personal protective equipment and rapid testing supplies to help nursing homes safely manage visitation.

While the state has issued visitation guidelines, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not. State officials said that is not an issue unless the federal agency comes up with its own rules on the matter. Facilities regulated by CMS must make sure they follow the federal policy. 

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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