Many Facilities Poised to Loosen Visitation Restrictions as State and National Data show steep decline in Nursing Home COVID cases
OKLAHOMA CITY – Data released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) shows that new COVID-19 infections in long-term care (LTC) facilities have fallen to less than 10 percent of rates reported in late 2020.
As a result, many facilities are poised to loosen visitation restrictions, a recent press release from an advocacy group of LTC facilities asserted this week.
From February 11-18 of 2021, there were 39 new COVID cases among residents, according to data reported by OSDH.
(https://oklahoma.gov/covid19/newsroom/weekly-epidemiology-and-surveillance-report.html) In the last week of December 2020, that weekly total was 443.
Additionally, test positivity rates continue to decline.
In data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, far fewer Oklahoma counties are listed as “red.”
In the last week of December 2020, 29 Oklahoma counties were listed as red counties for high nursing home positivity rates. In the week ending on February 17, just 11 counties were listed as red.
Most skilled nursing facilities in Oklahoma have now held at least one vaccination clinic, and many have completed the three clinic process.
Those vaccinations appear to be contributing to declining rates of COVID transmission in nursing homes that are far outpacing the rest of the population, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/is-the-end-of-the-long-term-care-crisis-within-sight-new-covid-19-cases-and-deaths-in-long-term-care-facilities-are-dropping/).
Care Providers Oklahoma President and CEO Steven Buck attributed the declining COVID positivity rates in nursing facilities to a combination of vaccines and rigorous infection control procedures.
“These vaccines are successfully driving down positivity rates in our facilities,” said Buck. “That, combined with the enormous investment our skilled nursing facilities have made in enhanced PPE, infection control training, and ‘hero pay’ for staff are all contributing to these positive outcomes. It is also important to give a nod to our neighbors for helping minimize community spread, which is the number one indicator of whether COVID-19 impacts long term care settings.”
While regulatory authorities have directed skilled nursing facilities to limit visitation for safety reasons, Buck said he anticipates those restrictions to be slowly relaxed as positivity rates continue to decline.
“Our providers follow CMS guidelines and the guidelines laid out by the Oklahoma Department of Health when it comes to visitation, so there will still be significant precautions in place for the foreseeable future, including health screenings, social distancing and mask wearing,” said Buck. “Still, we are quickly reaching a point where nursing homes are the safest environments available for seniors because of our high vaccination rates among our residents and our safety protocols. We are on the cusp of being able to restore more normal visitation patterns which are so important to family and residents.”
Buck said that skilled nursing facilities are encouraging state and federal officials to define standards for safe visitation and taking input from residents, family members, and staff about how to best balance family and visitor engagement with safety procedures.
“This has been such a challenging time for all of us, especially our residents and their families,” said Buck.
“We appreciate the patience and support we have experienced, and we expect that patience to be rewarded with meaningful and positive changes in the very near future. Our providers are eager to welcome visitors back into their facilities and look forward to the upcoming guidance.”