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Alabama nursing homes report declining COVID-19 cases

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not revised its visitation restrictions.

(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama nursing homes are experiencing a dramatic improvement in their fight against COVID-19. New cases of COVID-19 in Alabama nursing homes have declined 93 percent from their high point the week of Dec. 20, 2020, to the week of Feb. 21, 2021. The statistics are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network.

“The declining cases are a welcome sign, and we hope they point to brighter days ahead,” Alabama Nursing Home Association president and CEO Brandon Farmer said. “The vaccine roll out has been successful and our member nursing homes continue to follow infection control guidance from the state and federal governments. We think these factors are contributing to the decline in cases.”

All Alabama nursing homes have held two of their three COVID-19 vaccine clinics through the federal government’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. The third clinics are ongoing, and many nursing homes have held their third clinic.

Visitation update

Despite the drop in cases and vaccine rollout in Alabama and nationwide, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not revised its visitation restrictions. Nursing homes must continue to follow the CMS visitation guidance issued Sept. 17, 2020. Failure to follow the guidance can result in penalties for the nursing home.

“We appreciate Governor Ivey and Dr. Harris for continuing to work with nursing homes and helping us open visitation for our residents and families. We know how important it is for nursing home residents to be able to visit their loved ones in-person and have been working to reopen our doors since CMS first restricted visitation in March 2020. We hope the federal government will soon review and revise the guidance in light of the declining cases and vaccine uptake. Until then, we are encouraging our members to hold in-person visits as long as the nursing home can meet the federal requirements,” Farmer said.

The federal guidance states nursing homes must meet the following criteria to allow limited indoor visitation:

  • Have no new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days and not be currently conducting outbreak testing.
  • Limit the number of visitors per resident, limit the number of visitors in the building at one time and limit visitors’ movement inside the building.
  • Visitors must wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose and practice social distancing while visiting their loved one during their entire visit.
  • Even if the nursing home meets these criteria, it can’t allow indoor visitation if the county COVID-19 positivity rate is greater than 10 percent.
  • CMS allows nursing homes to require additional infection control measures such as COVID-19 testing or proof of a recent negative test.

The public can visit this website for an easy-to-understand guide for facility visits.

COVID-19 testing

Alabama nursing homes continue to follow the testing guidance CMS issued Aug. 26, 2020, which states:

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  • Nursing homes located in counties with a positivity rate of 10 percent or greater must test staff members twice a week.
  • One new case of COVID-19 found among residents or staff triggers outbreak testing which requires all residents and staff to be tested, and all residents and staff that tested negative should be tested every three to seven days until no new cases of COVID-19 are identified for 14 days.
  • All cases are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network.

“The drop in cases should not be attributed to a lack of testing because we are testing daily,” Farmer added.

Staff
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The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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