ALBANY — The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted many nursing homes to limit visitations and require extra precautions including taking the temperature of visitors before they can enter residents’ rooms, while full suspension of visitation is possible, state and nursing home officials said Monday.
Other voluntary measures include reducing visiting hours and helping residents visit with loved ones online, nursing home officials said.
“We are working with them on enhancing those precautions that are in place,” said Stephen Hanse, president and CEO at New York State Health Facilities Association, which represents skilled nursing providers.
Hanse continued, “nursing homes are on the front line. When you read the data, our population is the most susceptible, so we are working very, very closely with the state Health Department. Our residents are at the greatest risk.”
Nursing homes and assisted care facilities in New Rochelle in Westchester County already have stopped allowing visitors to see residents until at least March 22, officials said Monday.
There have been 98 coronavirus cases in Westchester, although none have been reported in nursing homes.
“I do see enhanced visitation policies being implemented by most if not all nursing homes, especially now that you’ve seen it in New Rochelle, even without anyone testing positive,” Hanse said.
The state could order temporary suspension of visitations at more or all of the state’s 620 nursing homes as the outbreak worsens, state officials said Monday. So far, no nursing home residents or staff have tested positive for the virus.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said many of the nursing homes statewide already are restricting visitation voluntarily.
Cuomo has urged most New Yorkers to see the coronavirus as just a “flu on steroids” for which 80 percent of those infected will “self-resolve.”
But he has struck a different tone for the elderly and ill.
“The people at risk here are senior citizens, people with a compromised immune system, people with an underlying illness,” Cuomo said. “The reality is that for that vulnerable population, they should be taking precautions … they should take it seriously.”
Cuomo said COVID-19, “communicates, transmits, more easily than the flu.”
In the 2017-18 flu season, 128,802 lab-confirmed flu cases were reported, according to the state Health Department. The department said it didn’t have the count of flu deaths.
Long Island nursing home operators say they are monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak closely.
Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said Monday that it’s likely that state officials will limit visiting hours to hospitals and nursing homes.
“The key thing here is to keep the people who are at high risk away from people who are sick,” Eisenstein said.
Suffolk County officials referred questions about nursing home visitation to the state.
“I think what you will see as more laboratories become certified to test for COVID-19 you will see higher incidents reported,” said Hanse.
“If and when you have an individual in a nursing home test positive, they will be quarantined, [and] the staff who cared for them will be caring just for them," Hanse said. "And in that case, you may see a temporary suspension of visitation.”
“We’ve had emergency preparations requirements for a long time,” said Jackie Pappalardi, director of educational development and grants management at the association.
Pappalardi said nursing homes practice the emergency protocols at least twice a year. “They are very comfortable handling these situations,” she said.
With Candice Ferrette and Rachelle Blidner