Guidelines take effect next week that will allow visitors inside nursing homes and care facilities in Oregon.
While residents are free to come and go, visitors haven’t been allowed inside for months, except under extraordinary circumstances, as a precaution against the novel coronavirus.
Now, state and federal regulators will require most nursing homes to facilitate indoor visits — with some infection control precautions.
Under the guidelines, residents can have up to two visitors at a time. Guests will be screened for symptoms and will need to wear masks. They also are supposed to remain in a designated visiting area or a resident’s room.
The state’s new policy takes effect Monday and is based almost entirely on guidance the federal government issued in September allowing visits in nursing homes, the most strictly regulated type of care facility.
Oregon’s policy will apply to a wider range of facilities, including memory care and some other types of assisted living: about 600 in all.
The state is using benchmarks set by the federal government to determine when visitation will be allowed.
Indoor visits will only be allowed in counties where the test positivity rate for COVID-19 is 10% or less. Most Oregon counties meet that standard today, though Malheur county does not, and Jackson and Deschutes county have positivity rates above 9%.
Visitation will only be allowed in facilities that have had no new COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days and that are not conducting outbreak testing.
Long term care facilities are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. About half of the people who have died from the novel coronavirus in Oregon are older adults in a communal living situation.
Sixty-two long term care facilities are currently battling outbreaks that have infected 755 residents, staff, or their close contacts, and killed 49 people, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
State regulators are trying to strike a balance between preventing infections and meeting residents' need for dignity and human connection. Outdoor visits are no longer as feasible given cooler fall weather.
“For many people, having in-person contact with family and friends is essential to well-being and quality of life,” said Elisa Williams, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Williams said the roll-out of regular COVID-19 testing for care facility staff and Oregon’s comparatively low ranking for per capita COVID-19 infections are among the factors that led to the policy change.