Embattled Cuomo lifts COVID visitation restrictions at NY nursing homes

Embattled Cuomo lifts COVID visitation restrictions at NY nursing homes

03/30/2021

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Embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has lifted COVID-19 visitation restrictions at nursing homes, which had been in place since the onset of the pandemic last year.

The new guidance, which takes effect immediately, permits visitation at all times and for all residents.

There will be limited exceptions for unvaccinated residents in areas that still have high COVID-19 positivity rates and lower resident vaccination rates.

Families who had relatives that died from COVID-19 in nursing homes gather before the start of a news conference in New York, Sunday, March 21, 2021. The families gathered to grieve but want an investigation into and accountability from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The guidance replaces a Feb. 23 directive that required a facility to be COVID-free for 14 days before people could visit — a difficult bar to clear, with many of the state’s 600 homes continuing to report sporadic cases among staff or residents.

“We now have three effective vaccines that are leading to significant decreases in long-term care COVID cases and a robust staff testing system to limit community spread from entering a facility,” Cuomo said. “Now is an appropriate time to take the next step and safely reconnect this community with their families.”

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The announcement comes during a week in which grieving families held events and vigils to honor the more than 15,000 residents in nursing homes and other senior facilities who died from the coronavirus over the past year.

Victims’ loved ones slammed the Cuomo administration’s controversial March 25, 2020 directive that required nursing homes to take in recovering COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals, which critics say worsened infections and deaths of elderly residents.

Family members wave goodbye to nursing home resident Barbara Farrior, 85, at the end of their visit at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020, in New York. The home offered drive-up visits for families of residents struggling with celebrating the holiday alone. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Nursing home advocates were pleased that the state is finally lifting the restriction on family visitations but questioned Cuomo’s motives.

“I’m happy the governor is allowing visitations. But I do question the timing,” said Vivian Zayas, co-founder of Voices For Seniors, whose mom, Ana Martinez, 78, died from COVID at a hospital last April 1 after being transferred from a Long Island nursing home.

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Zayas said nursing home residents suffered a double whammy — COVID and visitation restrictions.

“There are the seniors who died because of the isolation. That number is enormous. Five or ten thousand people died because of loneliness. They gave up,” Zayas said.

Medical staff evacuate an elderly woman from a nursing home after multiple residents of the facility tested positive for the new coronavirus, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

“Cuomo puts out positive news to spin off negative news about his investigations. The change in policy is too little, too late.”

Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, is facing multiple state and federal investigations over the nursing homes COVID policy and claims of sexual harassment.

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And Cuomo faces another probe over bombshell reports this week alleging he used state staffers to improperly arrange coronavirus tests for his relatives and favored officials during the early days of the pandemic. A Cuomo spokesman denied wrongdoing but did not dispute the early access to testing.

“We’re surprised Cuomo is still in office,” Zayas said. “Our resolve to see this through is still strong — of Cuomo being impeached or resigning. We want Cuomo held accountable at the federal level and the state level.”

FILE – In this Oct. 18, 2020, file photo, families of COVID-19 victims who died in New York nursing homes gather in front of Cobble Hill Heath Center in New York’s Brooklyn borough, to demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologize for his response to outbreaks in nursing homes during the pandemic. As the coronavirus made an end-of-the-year surge across New York, few nursing homes escaped unscathed. Until recently, the full extent of New York’s surge was partially obscured because Cuomo’s administration did not disclose data on thousands of nursing home residents who died outside of their facilities, a scandal that predates the accusations that he sexually harassed female aides. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

Cuomo, who has denied wrongdoing in his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, said the number of positive cases in nursing homes has plunged by more than 80 percent since peaking in mid-January during a second COVID post-holiday surge.

The state Health Department still strongly advises that all nursing home operators offer COVID testing for visitors.

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State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said, “We understand the emotional toll that this community has experienced by being separated from their loved ones during a particularly challenging year. We’re confident that these facilities can continue strong infection-control practices that will allow for the safe visitation they have dearly missed.”

Visitors will still be screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 through temperature checks and questions about whether they had close contact with someone who had the coronavirus in the prior 14 days.

Face coverings will also be required. COVID testing of staff and residents will continue.

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The guidance also emphasized that nursing homes must continue to encourage all staffers and residents to get vaccinated.

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