NC says indoor visits at most long-term care facilities can resume

CHARLOTTE — North Carolina health leaders on Thursday said that most long-term care facilities in the state can resume indoor visitation, citing a rapid drop in new COVID-19 cases reported at such facilities in the past several weeks.

Data presented by the NCDHHS says case rates are down more than 15-fold in skilled nursing facilities and adult care homes since the peak of transmission in January 2021. Given those declines, most facilities meeting criteria can resume indoor visitation.

Health officials said the rapid drop in virus cases can be attributed to early vaccination prioritization for residents in those long-term care facilities and decreasing community transmission.

According to the NCDHHS, more than 205,000 vaccines have been administered to long-term care staff and residents.

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”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 NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. “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.”

The declining number of cases in long-term care settings means many facilities can resume indoor visitation.

While facilities may conduct visits at any time for residents with compassionate care needs, federal and state guidelines have additional criteria for facilities to resume indoor visitation, which includes following infection prevention practices and having no new cases of COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

For Candy Surratt, both her parents are in a skilled nursing home. Their recent visits have been through glass windows, by phone, and it’s not the same.

“I mean, there have been times this year that I would love to be able to go and just hug my parents,” she said. “My dad has always given the best hugs, and I miss that.”

Camilla Sherrill has been on the front lines as executive director at Northlake House. There, staff serves patients in memory care, which included conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“What I have witnessed is more challenging just because they don’t grasp that. They don’t understand why their loved ones couldn’t come in. Why they couldn’t hug them Why they have to stay that 6 feet away,” Sherrill said. “We really had to think outside of the box and live a new normal this past year.”

Sherrill said she is looking forward to what’s next.

“We’re looking forward to getting some normalcy back in our lives,” she said.