RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Most long-term care facilities across the state have improved their COVID-19 numbers enough to resume indoor visitation, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday.
“New COVID-19 cases in North Carolina long-term care facilities have declined rapidly in the last several weeks. Case rates are down over 15-fold in skilled nursing facilities, adult care homes and other licensed facilities since the peak of transmission in January 2021,” a release from NCDHHS said.
Because of the rapid decline, “most facilities currently meet criteria to resume indoor visitation while continuing to follow infection prevention recommendations.”
“I’m excited, to say the least, to have them in the same room with me. This has been a long year. I am a feely touchy person and I’ve been very lonely on many days,” said Margaret Nickola, a resident at Cadence of Wake Forest.
On Thursday afternoon, Nickola’s son and daughter-in-law had their first visit together indoors in nine months.
“We would wear a mask and maintain distance, but it would be outside. Then it got to the point where COVID was really ramping up and they just stopped that and we couldn’t even do that,” said Ray Nickola.
Paula Nickola said the family has had to find ways to stay connected even when they were apart, so she calls her mother-in-law every morning.
“I read the bible to her. We’re doing the new testament right now. That’s how we’ve tried to be creative in how to visit, and how we can make it meaningful,” she said.
Margaret Nickola said while she enjoys the staff and her neighbors, nothing compares to spending time with her family face to face.
“They give a lot up for me and I appreciate that and look forward to more of the same,” she said.
NCDHHS is crediting early vaccination prioritization for those who live and work in long-term care facilities, as well as decreasing community transmission, for the swift fall in cases.
Mark Foreman, the executive director at Cadence of Wake Forest, said 94 percent of staff and residents are vaccinated.
“For our families it’s already been tears, it’s just surreal. It’s been a unique 2020. It’s great to see the excitement of 2021,” he said.
“Protecting our residents and staff in long-term care has been a top priority in our pandemic response efforts and seeing cases decrease in these settings is heartening,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. in the release. “I know it has been a long, difficult year for residents and families, but those measures saved lives and are now allowing us to resume safe, indoor visitation. While we need to continue infection prevention practices, this decrease is also a positive sign of the impact vaccinations have in our communities.”
Although many facilities can now resume indoor visitation, there are both federal and state guidelines in place to ensure that visitations are done properly and safely. Some of those requirements include continuing to follow infection prevention practices and having no new cases of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
The release states that Medicare-certified skilled-nursing facilities have additional criteria they’re required to meet by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.