One day after the state relaxed visitation rules for nursing homes, facility operators were preparing to open their doors, but said they must manage state health department requirements and prepare for the influx of expected visitors.
The decision to allow visitors changes an edict designed to keep elderly residents safe through the coronavirus pandemic. The safeguards caused anguish to many who went a year without seeing their loved ones in person.
The new rules match guidance from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state said.
Huntington Hills Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Melville started to slowly allow visitors on Friday, facility administrator Ken Knutsen said.
The facility sent voice messages to all families regarding the visitation policy, and it was "met with appreciation and gladness," he said.
Knutsen said they've scheduled visits throughout the weekend.
"I will be here for some hours tomorrow to say hi to family we have known, but not seen, for some time," Knutsen added in an email on Friday afternoon.
Huntington Hills will have safety protocols in place, Knutsen said. He said earlier Friday that "the process has to be reasonable. I want to avoid a stampede and keep everyone safe. It'll be a strategic approach. I hope people tell us when they plan on coming."
Ellen Resnick-Tjimos of Bethpage, whose 96-year-old mother is at Huntington Hills, expects to see her mom on Sunday.
"My mother is so excited, and I'm so excited," she said. "Sunday is going to be like a pre-97th birthday party for her. She turns 97 in April. I'll also be able to spend Passover with her."
To comply with the revised visitation rules, nursing home facilities need to screen all who enter the facilities; ensure visitors are observing hand hygiene; require they wear face coverings or masks and make sure individuals keep 6 feet of social distancing, in addition to cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, among other measures.
Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack said in a statement Friday that it would restart visitations as soon as possible, once it had reviewed health department requirements and implemented a plan.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo late Thursday afternoon relaxed the visitation rules, effective immediately, saying residents of those facilities can receive visitors at all times, with some exceptions.
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. Restrictions will continue to apply for residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection and those in quarantine, whether vaccinated or not.
Operators of skilled nursing facilities on Long Island had been asking for restrictions to be revised, maintaining that the threshold they had to meet was too stringent. A facility had to be clear of coronavirus cases for 14 days before allowing visits.
On Friday afternoon, Cuomo appeared at a temporary vaccination site in the Bronx set up by the community health organization Somos to praise that organization's efforts in the fight against COVID-19 and to offer hope that the end of the worst of the crisis is within reach.
"We went through a long year with COVID," he told a group of Somos doctors and personnel, along with clergy from the Black and Latino communities. "It was a long winter … a lot of darkness, a lot of pain, a lot of isolation … We lost people at a time when we couldn’t even grieve" normally.
But, he added, "The seasons change. We are in spring. The sun is out. It’s a season of renewal, it’s a season of rebirth."
He said the work of groups like Somos was important in getting the vaccines to underserved minority communities.
Cuomo said that more than 3 million New Yorkers have been fully vaccinated, or about 15% of the state's population. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two shots, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is completed with one dose.
A total of 239,288 vaccines were administered throughout the state in the last 24 hours, breaking New York's record for a second straight day, he said.
The state's COVID-19 positivity rate from 282,449 test results Thursday remained level at 3.01%. On a seven-day average, positivity tracked at 3.37% statewide and 4.34% on Long Island. The level in Nassau and Suffolk counties combined has hovered above 4% for weeks.
On Thursday, Nassau County had 696 new confirmed cases, Suffolk was at 736, and New York City registered 4,393.
Statewide, 49 individuals died Thursday of virus-related causes, including four in Suffolk. Nassau did not report any new deaths.
Eastport-South Manor school closed after positives
The Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School closed to in-person learning Friday after seven students tested positive for COVID-19, the school district announced.
A letter to parents and guardians from Superintendent Joseph A. Steimel said Thursday that students would participate in remote learning. He said officials had contacted the Suffolk County Department of Health Services about each of the reported cases.
The district started contact tracing efforts related to those students and to another social event that others may have attended, a district spokesman said.
Parents and guardians of students exhibiting any sign of potential coronavirus illness were advised to contact their medical providers.
"Please remember that in order for the schools to remain open and have our students attend class in-person, any students with symptoms of illness should not attend school," Steimel wrote.
With John Valenti
GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES IN NY
- To complete a prescreening and find sites to schedule COVID-19 shots, people in the eligible lists can visit https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/
- State residents may call the New York State Vaccination Hotline: 1-833-NYS-4VAX (1-833-697-4829)
- Northwell Health is booking its COVID-19 vaccine appointments online at northwell.edu/covidvaccine
- Call or visit your local pharmacist to check for participation in the state's vaccination effort.
- The state's phase distribution guidelines can be found at: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/phased-distribution-vaccine
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:
- Since Feb. 15, people at risk of moderate to severe illness due to health conditions, immunocompromised status or comorbidities, including ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and chronic kidney disease. The full list of qualifying conditions is listed with the announcement on the state's website.
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:
- State residents age 30 and older.
Since April 6, 2021:
- State residents age 16 and older.
SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.
Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.