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Nursing homes and long-term care facilities in New York were allowed to resume limited visitation yesterday for the first time since March, subject to compliance with guidelines issued by the State Department of Health.

The facilities must be COVID-free for at least 28 days, under new rules issued by the state health department.

Nursing homes accepting visitors are required to submit their visitation plan to the state health department and affirmatively attest that they are following the guidance outlined by the agency.

Only 22 of the more than 600 nursing homes in New York had submitted the required safety plans as of yesterday, according to an Associated Press report.

No local nursing homes have yet announced they will be able to immediately open their doors to visitors.

Acadia Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation in Riverhead, San Simeon by the Sound in Greenport and the Hamptons Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing in Southampton all say they cannot yet meet the 28-day COVID-free requirement.

Acadia Center administrator Mary Ann Mangels said the facility has a resident who has been “asymptomatic for weeks and weeks” but has not had two negative tests yet. The facility also has one non-direct care employee who is also asymptomatic positive, she said. That employee is also being retested.

“It seems the tests give almost as many  false positives  as false negatives,” Mangells said. “And when the lab can’t make a definitive determination they call it a ‘presumed’ positive, which has to be treated as a positive,” she said.

“At this rate, getting to 28 days COVID-free seems difficult to attain.”

San Simeon by the Sound, which has not had any COVID infections among residents throughout the pandemic, said it has had several employees test positive, most recently on July 1. Therefore, the facility is not permitted to allow visitation until July 29. Visiting may be delayed further should any additional employees test positive, San Simeon by the Sound said.

The Hamptons Center, in a July 12 letter to families from administrator Vince Liaguno, said while there have been no new resident cases in several weeks, one symptom-free resident continues to test positive and there have been three new positive employee cases, with the most recent positive test result on Friday. The soonest visitation can resume at the Hamptons Center is Aug. 7 — if there are no additional positive tests among staff or residents.

The health department issued the revised guidance for nursing homes on Friday, to take effect Wednesday, July 15. Restrictions on visiting include: only 10% of the residents can be allowed visitors at any time in order to maintain proper social distancing and ensure safe compliance; no more than two visitors at a time for any one resident; at least one of the two visitors must be 18 years of age or older; all visitors must undergo temperature checks, wear face coverings and socially distance during the visit.

The Department of Health said it will make adjustments to the visitation policy as appropriate based on facts and data following this initial phase to ensure the health and safety of residents, staff and visitors.

In the health department’s announcement regarding the new guidance, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the restrictions being implemented were necessary because coronavirus infections among nursing home residents. The state has not released data on long-term care facilities infections, but as of Tuesday, nearly 6,500 long-term care residents — about 6% of the total number of residents in those facilities statewide — had died as a result of the virus, according to data released by the Department of Health.

Facing scrutiny and criticism over a March 25 directive requiring long-term care facilities to admit COVID-19 positive residents discharged from hospitals, the state health department reversed course and banned COVID-positive admissions in May.

The health department conducted an internal investigation and last week issued a report concluding that the virus was brought into long-term care facilities by infected visitors and staff — not hospital admissions resulting from its own March 25 directive.

The state’s controversial policy sent more than 6,000 COVID-positive patients from hospitals to nursing homes, including 58 facilities that had not previously had any coronavirus infections among residents or staff, according to data released by the state.

The state’s March 25 directive — and its report defending it — have faced withering criticism by families, patient advocates, nursing homes and elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

Zucker said on Friday the state will continue to “closely monitor the situation in each facility, and make adjustments based on the facts and data moving forward.”

The health commissioner also announced on-site visits for the state’s long-term care ombudsman program, which provides support to long-term care facility residents, would resume as of July 15. Ombudsman staff must utilize appropriate PPE for the duration of the visit, and must be screened as if they were a staff person of the nursing home, including having to present a verified negative test result to the nursing home within the past week. The ombudsman program

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.