The Tennessee Department of Health has released guidance allowing long-term care facilities to gradually re-open to visitors starting Oct. 1.
The new structure will allow outdoor and limited indoor visitation if a facility has gone more than 14 days without any new cases of COVID-19. After 28 days, up to two essential caregivers per guest will be allowed indoor visitation with restrictions.
All outside guests will undergo screening, essential caregivers will be subject to rapid testing and visits will be under time restraints and must be scheduled in advance, among other parameters.
The new guidelines modify the former visitation structure based on a county’s case rate per population for a more lenient, individualized approach per facility. Previously, facilities in only five counties across Tennessee’s 97 had sustained a slow enough outbreak to allow guests into its nursing homes.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the former guidelines unfairly blocked visitations to long-term care facilities in rural counties where isolated clusters — such as jails or prisons — drove high case volumes. Currently, nearly 260 facilities have reported at least one new COVID-19 case in the past month.
All facilities across the state are equipped with rapid testing machines.
“It’s time to reunite families and residents in a safe manner so we can balance the emotional needs of our senior citizens,” Piercey said at a press briefing Thursday.
The health department has also advised facilities to restart communal activities and dining after 14 days of no new COVID-19 cases, including beauty shop visits, rehab services, small group activities and more.
“Being in isolation plays a toll on nursing home residents and their families,” Gov. Bill Lee said at the briefing. “After months of isolation, those costs mount physically, emotionally and otherwise. The negative consequences of loneliness and isolation are severe. Relationships with families and friends are significant to a person’s health, but especially the elderly.”