CMS on Thursday offered nursing homes new guidelines on how to safely allow visitors in indoor and outdoor settings, after months of restrictions meant to protect residents from the coronavirus.
"While we must remain steadfast in our fight to shield nursing home residents from this virus, it is becoming clear that prolonged isolation and separation from family is also taking a deadly toll on our aging loved ones," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a prepared statement.
In the U.S., there have been 223,626 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among nursing home residents, 132,911 suspected cases and 54,437 deaths, according to the latest data available from CMS.
The new guidance recommends nursing homes plan outdoor visits as much as possible because the risk for transmission is lower in open air settings. The agency also will allow facilities to apply for up to $3,000 in civil monetary funds to purchase tents or clear dividers for outdoor visitation.
The guidance permits indoor visitation if a facility has not had a new onset of COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days, if the site isn't conducting outbreak testing and if the county positivity rate isn't above 10%. The number of visitors and movement in the facility should be limited, and visitors should be confined to a visitation room or a resident's room, if the resident doesn't have a roommate.
The visitation restrictions do not apply to compassionate care visits, such as end-of-life visits, a resident grieving the death of a loved one or a resident experiencing emotional or physical distress.
The new visitation guidelines come one day after a federal commission tasked with figuring out the best way to improve care in nursing homes during the pandemic recommended CMS recognize visitation as a resident's right. The new guidelines also come after CMS in August implemented stricter testing and reporting requirements for nursing homes.
CMS first recommended nursing homes restrict visitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In May, the agency offered updated recommendations for facilities in communities that were reopening.