The Biden administration on Wednesday published revised guidelines for nursing home visits during the pandemic, allowing guests the freedom to go inside to see residents regardless of whether the visitors or the residents have been vaccinated.
The new recommendations, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services with input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the first revision to the federal government’s nursing home guidance since September. And they arrived as more than three million vaccine doses have been administered in nursing homes, the agency said.
The guidance was also the latest indication that the pandemic in the United States was easing, with Covid-19 cases continuing to decrease across the nation, though the seven-day average remains at more than 58,000. The C.D.C. on Monday released long-awaited guidance for Americans who have been fully vaccinated, telling them that it is safe to gather in small groups at home without masks or social distancing.
About 62.5 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 32.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine or the two-dose series made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
In a statement of the reasoning behind the updated recommendations, Dr. Lee Fleisher, the chief medical officer at C.M.S., cited the millions of vaccines administered to nursing home residents and staff and a decline in infections in nursing homes.
“C.M.S. recognizes the psychological, emotional and physical toll that prolonged isolation and separation from family have taken on nursing home residents, and their families,” Dr. Fleisher said.
Earlier in the pandemic, the coronavirus raced through tens of thousands of long-term care facilities in the United States, killing more than 150,000 residents and employees and accounting for more than a third of all virus deaths since the late spring. But since the arrival of vaccines, new cases and deaths in nursing homes have fallen steeply, outpacing national declines, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.
The eight pages of recommendations, which are not legally binding, did come with suggested limits, saying that “responsible indoor visitation” should be allowed at all times unless a guest is visiting an unvaccinated resident in a county where the Covid-19 positivity rate is higher than 10 percent and less than 70 percent of residents in the nursing home have been fully vaccinated. The guidance also says to limit visits if residents have Covid-19 or are in quarantine.
Federal officials said in the new guidance that outdoor visits were still preferable because of a lower risk of transmission, even when the residents and guests have been fully vaccinated.
So-called “compassionate care” visits — when a resident’s health has severely deteriorated — should be allowed regardless of vaccination status or the county’s positivity rate, the guidance said.