The Omicron variant of COVID-19 emerged in fall of 2021 and quickly spread throughout the U.S. Compared to previous incarnations of the disease, Omicron proved to be particularly contagious. Scientists have theorized that the variant is less likely to bind to proteins in the lungs, causing it to linger in an infected person’s upper airway. This acts as a double-edged sword, making the variant less powerful but more contagious. While this may be good news for the general public, it puts senior citizens at an increased risk. COVIDs effect on nursing homes ravages on, and there are updates to visitation rules that every provider should be aware of in the wake of Omicron.
PHE Limitations Are Lifted
One of the biggest changes that’s been implemented in nursing homes is the elimination of public health emergency (PHE) protocol that places limits on resident visits. This is per a memo issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The memo indicates that all nursing home residents should be allowed to have visitors. The memo still notes, however, that prospective visitors who are positive for COVID-19 or experiencing symptoms should not be allowed to enter a facility. This is in contrast to the memo previously published by CMS, which advised that visits from any non-essential person or provider should be restricted. This new freedom may sound like good news for families and residents, but it calls for some precautions.
Infection Prevention Protocol Remains
While PHE restrictions on visitation have been lifted, infection prevention protocol remains in place. This means that visitors must adhere to standard practices that are required to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Such practices include basic hand hygiene that can be accomplished by washing hands or using hand sanitizer. Visitors should also wear a face covering at all times — preferably a surgical mask, if it is available. Most importantly, any visitor who exhibits symptoms of COVID, such as a cough, shortness of breath, or fever, should not be allowed to enter a nursing home facility. These infection prevention protocols should remain in place regardless of whether visitation is restricted or not.
CMS Guidance May Conflict With Local Regulations
Current nursing home COVID guidelines vary widely. Some standards are based on individual policies mandated by facilities, while others are based on local and state guidelines. In addition to these regulations, CMS has regularly issued its own recommendations, which may be in conflict with local, state, and individual facility policies. This has been noted as a potential source of confusion, with some facility administrators wondering what set of standards should supersede the others. Nursing home risk management is all about acting in patients’ best interest, though, which means that many decisions will be left up to the discretion of administrators.