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Cuomo: State lifting pandemic restrictions to immediately allow nursing home visits

Nursing home residents can receive visitors at all

Nursing home residents can receive visitors at all times, with some exceptions for those not vaccinated for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Thursday. Credit: James Carbone

New York State relaxed visitation rules for nursing homes, effective immediately, saying Thursday afternoon that residents of those facilities can receive visitors at all times, with some exceptions, including for residents not vaccinated for COVID-19.

The decision changes a controversial edict that intended to keep elderly residents safe, but had caused anguish to people who could not visit their parents and grandparents since the height of the pandemic.

Now, some are looking forward to sharing the same space with their loved ones again.

Ellen Resnick-Tjimos, of Bethpage, whose 96-year-old mother is at Huntington Hills Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Melville, said: "I can't even see straight, that's how excited I am."

"My mom has been sad, it's been awful," Resnick-Tjimos added. "I'll be able to run into the nursing home like a lunatic, screaming hallelujah."

A memorandum issued Thursday by the New York State Department of Health said the new rule matches guidance from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"While both New York State and CMS guidance have focused on protecting nursing home residents from COVID-19, we recognize that physical separation from family and other loved ones has taken a physical and emotional toll on residents and their loved ones," the letter said.

Indoor visitation will remain off-limits for unvaccinated residents, if the county positivity rate where the nursing home is located is above 10% and fewer than 70% of residents are fully vaccinated. Those limits will also apply for residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection and those in quarantine, whether vaccinated or not.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state government had put those restrictions in place to keep the virus from spreading in those facilities.

"From the very beginning we've used science and data to find the appropriate balance between protecting our most vulnerable populations in nursing homes and the importance of allowing safe contact with their loved ones," Cuomo said in a statement.

What's made the difference, he added, is the availability of vaccines.

"We now have three effective vaccines that are leading to significant decreases in long-term care COVID cases and a robust staff testing system to limit community spread from entering a facility," Cuomo added. "Now is an appropriate time to take the next step and safely reconnect this community with their families."

The decision was welcome relief for many — and an end to the isolation.

Dolores Zanchelli, of Deer Park, said her mother, Gina Compierchio, a resident of Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack, has been asking to go home because she's depressed.

"This is a morale booster for sure," she said. "Oh my God, this is great news. It's like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. We can speak for them. We can advocate for them, and we can do it in person."

Operators of skilled nursing facilities on Long Island had been asking for restrictions to be revised, maintaining that the threshold they had to meet to return to visits was too stringent. A facility had to be clear of coronavirus cases for 14 days before allowing visits.

The change in visitation rules "allows us to apply logic and infection control and doesn't penalize an entire facility based on one positive case," said Dr. David Siskind, medical director at Northwell's Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation in Manhasset.

Siskind said Stern will immediately isolate an infected resident and quarantine a roommate. It also would perform contact tracing on an infected employee.

"We don't want to see outbreaks any more than anyone else," he said.

Stuart B. Almer, president and CEO of Gurwin, said the governor's announcement was "optimistic news for our residents and their families, who have been waiting for the day they would be allowed to reunite in person.

"We are working quickly to implement a system that resumes visitation while adhering to all regulations and also safeguarding the health and well-being of our staff, our residents and their families," Almer said.

More than 200,000 shots in 24 hours

For the first time, New York administered more than 200,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines in a 24-hour period, Cuomo said Thursday.

The 202,123 doses set a record for the state, which is racing to vaccinate as many people as it can before more contagious variants of the virus take root.

The update came on the same day President Joe Biden announced in his first news conference since taking office that he is raising the national inoculation goal to 200 million vaccines by the end of his first 100 days in office. He had initially set a 100 million vaccination goal for that period, which he later expanded to 150 million doses.

The state is now administering more than 1 million doses a week, Cuomo said, and has injected 8.2 million doses so far, though many are part of a two-dose regimen for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose.

The state still needs far more doses of the vaccine than the federal government is providing, he said, and some COVID-19 positivity levels in test results from Wednesday showed New York continued to stall in its attempt to crush the virus.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran was among the people who got their vaccine Thursday, following a recent expansion of eligibility by age and an increased supply of vaccines making it to sites across the region.

After receiving her shot in East Garden City, the county executive recommended others do the same.

"I feel great," Curran said. "I’m really happy to get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine here at our county-run Department of Health distribution site at Nassau Community College … You know, this is our passport back to normal, so I encourage everyone when you are eligible, make an appointment, roll up your sleeve, get the vaccination."

The statewide daily level of positivity was 3.01% out of 268,276 test results, while the seven-day average was 3.37% statewide and 4.41% on Long Island. Nassau and Suffolk counties combined continued to have among the highest levels of regions in the state.

The positivity rate here has continued to hover above 4%. Last summer, the level on Long Island and statewide was about 1%.

A total of 45 people died Wednesday in the state of coronavirus-related causes, with three deaths each in Nassau and Suffolk.

The state also announced 14 new vaccination "pop-up" sites operating over several days.

The sites on Long Island included the BAPS Swaminarayan Hindu Temple in Melville, which was delivering shots on Friday afternoon, and the Alden Terrace School in Valley Stream, planned for Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The new pop-up sites statewide are expected to vaccinate more than 4,200 people.

Since Jan. 15, more than 160 community-based pop-up sites have administered more than 62,500 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Cuomo said.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES IN NY

Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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