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Federal Regulators Draft Guidelines for Reopening Nursing Homes amid Pandemic: Report

Judie Shape, 81, who tested positive for coronavirus, waves as her daughter Lori Spencer and husband Michael Spencer visit outside her room at the Care Center of Kirkland in Kirkland, Wash., March 17, 2020. (Jason Redmond/Reuters)

Federal health regulators have developed guidelines for the phased reopening of nursing homes, which have proved to be extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus, even as the pandemic continues to infect more people across the country.

An early draft of the guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposes a phased reopening process similar to the Trump administration’s guidelines for states to begin lifting lockdown and stay at home orders, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The guidelines propose several reopening phases for nursing homes, where homes would remain mostly closed in the first phase. If a nursing home reported no new cases of the virus for 14 days, it could move to the second phase. Nursing homes where a quarter or more of residents were infected would have to wait longer, 28 days, before moving to phase two, which would allow limited visitation and communal dining and activities while practicing social distancing.

The final draft of the guidelines may be different from the draft that was circulated, the Journal added. The measures proposed in the draft version were criticized by some industry officials, who argued nursing homes do not have enough testing or protective equipment to reopen yet.

On March 13, CMS said communal activities and nearly all visitors should be restricted in nursing homes in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus in such facilities. The respiratory illness caused by the virus has run rampant in several nursing homes and adult-care facilities across the country and killed thousands of elderly people, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus.

Since CMS took a leading role in closing nursing homes in the wake of the pandemic, “it only makes sense that CMS would also be highly engaged with working with stakeholders to plan for a potential future reopening,” a CMS spokesperson said.

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