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Missouri Nursing Homes Are Allowing Indoor Visits For The First Time In A Year

Katie Morrison meets her grandfather at Bethesda Southgate, a nursing facility in South St. Louis County, during one of the organization's window visits on November 19, 2020.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Katie Morrison meets her grandfather at Bethesda Southgate, a nursing facility in south St. Louis County, during one of the organization's window visits in November.

Missouri nursing homes and long-term care facilities are permitting indoor visits for the first time in a year, now that the state Department of Health and Senior Services has lifted restrictions imposed to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

The state’s updated guidelines, released last week, follow new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for nursing homes across the nation as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues. For some residents, the change will bring an end to a year of isolation.

Previously, nursing homes permitted only limited outdoor visits.

Earlier this month, federal officials updated guidelines for nursing home operations for the first time since September.

According to CMS guidelines released March 10, “Facilities should allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents (regardless of vaccination status), except for a few circumstances when visitation should be limited due to a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.” Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services updated its guidelines to follow suit on March 25.

Missouri will allow indoor visits only if the nursing home’s COVID-19 county positivity rate is less than 10% and if more than 70% of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated, according to the new state and federal guidelines.

The Illinois Department of Public Health is only permitting visitors if there have been no active COVID-19 cases in a nursing home facility for 14 days.

Nursing home deaths decreased by 66% late last year because more of their residents received the COVID-19 vaccine and the number of coronavirus cases decreased, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Not being able to have visitors took a toll on nursing home residents, many of whom faced loneliness and isolation, said Marjorie Moore, CEO of VOYCE, an advocacy group for nursing home patients and their families.

“If a resident wants to, and they've been vaccinated, they can have a hug from their family members, which is something they haven't had in a year,” she said. “So that's really, really amazing.”

Moore said it’s important to reinforce safety measures such as temperature checks, hand-washing and mask-wearing. She said that depending on the size of a facility, administrators may need to limit the number of visitors allowed at a time.

“Before the pandemic started, we had a lot of people who would spend all day with the residents,” she said. “We're not ready for that. The facilities aren't there yet. And that's what I'm really hoping we're able to get back to.”

Missouri health officials also will adopt a CDC determination that nursing home residents who may have been exposed to the virus no longer need to be quarantined for 14 days. That means nursing homes won’t be completely locked down if a resident tests positive.

Follow Megan on Twitter: @meganisonline

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