DOH Nursing Home Visitation Guidelines

February 23, 2021

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) has released Health Advisory: Revised Skilled Nursing Facility Visitation, which supersedes all previous nursing home visitation guidance and is effective February 26. The updated advisory aligns with State and Federal guidelines (See CCB-10 on February 19). GNYHA has been advocating for the relaxation of stringent State visitation requirements to allow families and loved ones to safely resume resident visitation.

DOH notes the following: “[b]ased on the needs of residents and a facility’s structure, visitation can be conducted through a variety of means, such as in resident rooms, dedicated visitation spaces and outdoors weather permitting. Regardless of how visits are conducted, there are certain core principles and best practices that reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and must be followed.”

In counties with less than a 5% positivity rate, nursing home visitors are “strongly encouraged” to take a COVID-19 test. In counties with a 5-10% positivity rate, DOH requires visitors to present proof of a negative test within the past 72 hours. Only compassionate care visits will be allowed in counties with a positivity rate greater than 10%. According to Governor Cuomo’s press release on nursing home visitation, no testing is needed for visitors who “provide proof of a completed COVID-19 vaccination no less than 14 days from the date of the visit and no more than 90 days prior to the visit.” DOH will provide rapid tests to nursing homes at no cost to visitors.

The Health Advisory permits nursing homes to expand visitation and activities following the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention (see Federal guidelines), and DOH outlines 14 conditions, including:

  • Compliance with Federal and State reporting requirements, including through the Health Electronic Response Data System (HERDS) and the National Health Safety Network.
  • The revised facility visitation plan must be accessible and available, and “clearly articulate the space(s) to be used for visitation (outdoors and indoors) including the number of visitors and residents which could be safely socially distanced within the space(s). The plan must reference relevant infection control policies for visitors.”
  • There has been no new onset of COVID-19 in the last 14 days and the facility is not conducting outbreak testing as reported through HERDS.
  • Visitors must be able to adhere to the core principles of infection prevention, and staff are expected to provide monitoring for those who may have difficulty adhering.
  • Facilities should use the COVID-19 county positivity rates, found on the CMS COVID-19 Nursing Home Data site, to determine when visitation should be paused. When the county positivity rate is high (>10%), visitation can only occur for compassionate care situations according to the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention and facility policies.

GNYHA continuing care members are encouraged to carefully read the new DOH advisory to develop a revised visitation and activities plan. Other relevant guidance is available from CDC and CMS.

GNYHA is seeking clarifications about DOH expectations under the new guidance, including whether the 14 days of no new onset of COVID-19 is for any infection or facility-acquired infections. We will keep you informed of all new details as we learn them.