Nursing home residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can get hugs again. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released updated visitation guidance this week, as COVID case numbers in nursing homes across the country continue to decline and vaccinations become widespread among residents.
According to the newly updated guidance, a fully vaccinated resident can choose to have close contact (including touch) with their visitor if they are both wearing a mask and wash their hands before and after.
"We acknowledge the toll that separation and isolation has taken," CMS wrote in the guidance. "We also acknowledge that there is no substitute for physical contact, such as the warm embrace between a resident and their loved one."
Barbara Beebe got a phone call early Thursday that she would be able to hug her mom, Eileen Kane, at their afternoon visit that day. She had not touched her mother in over a year.
“It has been horrible," said Beebe, who lives in Uncasville. "Not being able to hug and kiss my mother."
Beebe had her first window visit with her mom in March of 2020. Since then, they have been able to see each other with virtual and socially distanced visits. She said it has been an incredibly difficult year.
“I just hope everybody else has the same chance that I had today," said Beebe.
Bill White is president and administrator of Beechwood Post-Acute & Transitional Care in New London, where Beebe's mom is a resident.
"Nothing substitutes for touch," said White.
White said the updated federal guidance is a step in the right direction. He also said the relaxed rules are a testament to the benefits of widespread vaccination. About 94% of residents at Beechwood are fully vaccinated. According to White, they have not had a positive case of COVID-19 since January.
“It is still not wide open doors, but we are opening the doors wider," said White. "The vaccine has made this happen.”