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MONTPELIER — As colder weather comes, indoor visits at long-term care facilities will be allowed as long as COVID-19 is not prevalent in the host community.

At the governor’s twice-weekly news conference about the coronavirus pandemic, Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued new regulatory guidance on indoor visitation for nursing homes certified under the federal agency a few weeks ago. In response, the state updated its guidance, which went into effect Monday.

indoor visitation will be allowed in facilities where county coronavirus positivity rates are between 0 and 10 percent. If the rates exceed 10 percent, only outdoor or compassionate care visits will be allowed. If a facility has a positive case, visitation will be suspended except for compassionate care, which is defined as medical and emotional care for terminal patients.

“Now remember, Vermont is under the 5 percent positivity rate so these guidelines would pertain to long-term care facilities or skilled nursing facilities in Vermont,” Smith said.

These facilities in Vermont were closed to visitors in mid-March due to the pandemic. Outdoor visits began to be allowed starting around Father’s Day in June.

Facilities and visitors will be held to “high standards,” Smith said, acknowledging the impact the inability to see loved ones has had on nursing homes. He listed CMS’ core principles including visitor screening, physical distancing, mask wearing, cleaning and disinfecting practices, use of personal protective equipment and hand hygiene. He said each facility will be limited to hosting two visitors at a time.

New staff testing requirements also will depend on the positivity rate of a county. Employees at nursing homes must be tested monthly if those rates are below 5 percent, weekly if above and twice a week if the rate is more than 10 percent.

Adult day service programs can now begin to reopen.

“The most vulnerable of these participants might not be coming back immediately because they might be presenting too big of a risk,” Smith said, adding that programs might continue to offer telehealth services as they reopen.

Programs will need to submit a reopening plan to Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living for review. Smith said plans address physical distancing, water, climate control, masking, cleaning, disinfecting, food, transportation, how personal care will be handled and more.

Bennington Project Independence is working a reopening plan to submit to the state, Executive Director Linda Wichlac told the Banner.

“There are a few environmental upgrades and other concerns that we have to address in order to do our best to keep our members, their families and our staff as safe as possible,” she said.

“With the State Healthcare Guidance and CDC recommendations we will only be able to accommodate a very limited number of members at first. We have been in contact with our members and their families to give them the heads up that we will be reopening as soon as it is safely feasible.”

In the meantime, BPI is continuing its telephonic and online activities “so that we can support as many individuals and families as possible through this challenging time,” she said.

Michael S. Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, reported the number of people getting flu vaccinations in the state to be up by about 9.5 percent, or 5,000 or 6,000 people.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the vaccinations can help avoid doctor and hospital visits, and reduce the severity of flu symptoms. He noted Vermonters were hospitalized more than 1,800 times during last year’s flu season.

“So this year, it’s important to limit any strain on our hospitals or health care providers,” he said, as they continue to play an important role in responding to the pandemic.

Five cases are associated with four schools in Manchester, Windsor, South Burlington and Williston. Levine said transmission is not believed to have occurred yet in a school since in-person instruction resumed last month.

Twelve cases are linked to youth and adult hockey leagues in Montpelier. Levine said the number should be considered preliminary and subject to change. He called the mode of transmission “unclear.”


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