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After months of barring visitations, the state announced this month that families could visit their loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities without COVID-19 cases.
Since the new policy was announced by the Health and Human Services Commission on Aug. 6, detailed guidelines for nursing homes have gone into effect. More specific rules for other types of long-term care facilities will be posted at a later date, a spokesperson for the department said.
Here’s what you need to know about the rules for visits at Texas nursing homes.
Which nursing homes can have in-person visits?
Facilities aren’t required to restart in-person visits under the new guidelines. But if a facility wants to, it must obtain the commission’s approval by applying for what is known as a Phase 1 designation.
To be granted a Phase 1 designation, a nursing home must:
- Have no COVID-19 cases among staff members for at least two consecutive weeks.
- Have no active COVID-19 cases among residents.
- Test the staff weekly.
If a nursing home previously had cases of the virus among residents or staff and wants a Phase 1 designation, the commission will conduct a review of the facility and verify that:
- All staff and residents have recovered from the virus.
- The facility has enough staff members to care for residents and to supervise visits.
- The facility is following disease-prevention guidelines required for COVID-19.
Any nursing home that experiences an outbreak after being approved for a Phase 1 designation must notify the commission and cancel all visits. It must then meet all requirements and be re-approved.
What are the rules during each visit?
Nursing homes granted a Phase 1 designation may only allow outdoor visits and compassionate care visits, or visits between one permanently designated visitor and a resident who is declining in physical or mental health.
Vehicle parades and window visits may continue under the new guidelines.
The following rules apply to all four types of visits:
- Visits have to be by appointment only, with enough time to allow for cleaning and sanitation of the area where the visit takes place.
- No physical contact is allowed between residents and visitors.
- Visitors must be screened before each visit. Visitors are not allowed if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees and higher; exhibit any respiratory symptoms or other symptoms of COVID-19; have had contact with someone in the last two weeks who has tested positive for the virus; or traveled internationally in the last two weeks.
During the in-person visits, residents and visitors are required to:
- Wear a face mask for the entirety of the visit. Residents don’t have to wear a face mask if they are physically unable.
- Keep a 6-foot distance. Social distancing should be enforced by staff members, and it’s recommended the facility limit the number of people in each visitation area.
- Wash their hands before and after the visit. Facilities are also required to provide sanitizer or hand washing stations for visitors and residents.
What other rules do nursing homes have to follow?
In addition to the new rules required for visitation, each nursing home must have enhanced emergency precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Each facility is required to:
- Create a COVID-19 response plan in case a resident or staff member gets sick, as well as a plan for helping a resident to recover. The state recommends that certain staff members are designated to work with residents who have the virus, and that the designation doesn’t change from one day to the next.
- Screen residents for symptoms of the virus at least three times a day
- Create a plan for maintaining at least a two-week supply of personal protective equipment