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Visiting can resume at nursing homes, state Health Department says

New York nursing home residents will be allowed

New York nursing home residents will be allowed two visitors at a time, and the visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and socially distance during the visit, according to state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. Above: Atria in South Setauket. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

This story was reported by John Asbury, Tory N. Parrish, David Reich-Hale and Craig Schneider. It was written by Schneider.

When Kenya Farrar and her family heard that the state was lifting the ban on visitors at nursing homes and long-term-care facilities, they celebrated with screams of joy.

"Amazing. We were ecstatic," said Farrar, whose father, Vincent Hollins, resides in the Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation in New Hyde Park.

"We just started screaming when we heard," added Farrar, 47, of Queens Village.

Nursing homes and long-term-care facilities can resume limited visitations beginning Wednesday, as long as the facility has been without COVID-19 for at least 28 days, the state Health Department said.

Residents will be allowed two visitors at a time, and the visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and socially distance during the visit, according to a statement Friday by state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. 

"I know how painful it has been for residents of these facilities to endure such a long period of time without seeing family and loved ones, and my hope is that this adjustment to the visitation policy will provide some comfort to everyone," Zucker said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had suspended all visits to nursing homes in mid-March as the spread of the coronavirus worsened statewide. Since then, New York has substantially diminished the spread.

More than 6,400 residents have died of confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. On Long Island alone, more than 1,600 people in nursing homes are confirmed or presumed to have died of COVID-19.

Cuomo’s administration has come under criticism for a March 25 order that effectively ordered nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients from hospitals. Cuomo said nursing home staff members were the chief source of infections in those facilities.

The governor said in May that hospitals could no longer discharge patients into nursing homes unless they test negative for COVID-19.

Under the new decision on visitation, at least one of the two visitors must be 18 years of age or older, the state said. For each facility, only 10% of the residents can be allowed visitors at any time; for example, in a 100-bed facility, no more than 10 residents can have visitors per day in order to maintain social distancing.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation in each facility and make adjustments based on the facts and data moving forward," Zucker said.

Nursing homes accepting visitors will be required to send their visitation plan to the state Health Department and attest that they are following the guidance. The threshold that the facility must be free of COVID-19 for 28 days was set by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Farrar said she is inquiring when she'll be allowed to visit. She has seen her 79-year-old father face-to-face only once since the shutdown, when the facility allowed limited visits on Father's Day.

Farrar said she doesn't want her father to know when the family visits.

"I want to just go in and surprise him," she said.

The state's decision was welcome news at the Woodhaven Nursing Home in Port Jefferson, said community liaison Diana Pralgo. She said the facility is putting together policies for the visits. Visitors must wear a mask and undergo a temperature screening before entering the facility, she said.

"We have to get all our things together, because we want to do this perfectly," she said, adding that the new policies should be in place within a week.

Cuomo: State COVID-19 hospitalizations below 800

Cuomo said Saturday that hospitalizations in the state dropped below 800 for the first time since March 18, and the three-day average death toll — seven — is the lowest since March 16. 

Hospitalizations in the state dropped by 27 to 799. 

"Throughout this pandemic, we've made progress by recognizing that state and local governments can't fight the virus on their own — the efforts of everyday New Yorkers to socially distance, wear masks and wash their hands are central to our ability to slow the spread and save lives," Cuomo said.  

New York suffered six deaths Friday, bringing the total to 24,974. The state saw 730 new cases, bringing the total to 401,029.

Both Long Island and New York City registered an infection rate of 1.0%, largely in tune with recent trends.

Nassau saw 35 new cases for a total of 42,267. Suffolk had 76 new cases for a total of 41,987.

“I am proud to report residents testing positive for COVID-19 continues to hover around 1% or below," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. "Yesterday the percentage testing positive was about .6% with only 35 positive results out of an impressive 5,718 residents tested."

The number of patients hospitalized by the virus in Nassau rose slightly to 52, and 11 patients were reported in the county’s ICUs. Nassau reported no additional COVID-19-related deaths, Curran said.

New York City had 307 new cases, bringing the total to 218,710, according to state figures.

Other developments

Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream and Broadway Commons in Hicksville both reopened Saturday. Those reopenings followed Cuomo’s announcement Wednesday that malls outside of New York City could open Friday if they had high-efficiency air filtration systems to help control the spread of the virus. Other malls on the Island opened Friday, and more will open in the coming week.

In addition, the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities has issued updated guidance for day programs, home visits and community outings. These activities can begin starting Wednesday, if certain safety requirements are met, in regions that are in Phase 4, such as Long Island.

Northwell Health on Saturday said it had 98 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates — the first time the health system has reported fewer than 100 such patients since mid-March.