Those with loved ones staying in certain S.C. nursing homes and assisted living facilities may soon be able to have an outdoor, socially-distanced visit with their loved ones, according to S.C. Governor Henry McMaster.
"Restricting visitation to the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities in March was a heartbreaking necessity, but it was the most effective way to contain the spread and save the lives of our state's elderly and at-risk residents," McMaster said during his Tuesday afternoon press conference.
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Marshall Taylor said that the new guidelines do not mean visitation is available for everyone at every facility.
Facilities can implement socially-distanced outdoor visits depending on certain factors, according to Dr. Joan Duwve with DHEC, including the level of disease transmission at their facility, the availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and staffing, and whether or not COVID-19 testing is occurring at the facility in accordance with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines.
Duwve said there are 90 nursing homes in the state that meet those criteria and have not had a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days, and 31 facilities that have had only one COVID-19 case in the last 14 days and will soon meet the visitation criteria.
"It's important for all of us to understand that each facility will need a reasonable amount of time to meet the criteria we have outlined. Outdoor visitation will not happen immediately. It will be the responsibility of each facility to decide how it is best able to implement these guidelines, while protecting the health of their residents, staff, and visitors," Duwve said.
Visitors must be 12 years of age or older, and Gov. McMaster said some exceptions may be made on the age restriction depending on the resident's situation. Only two visitors will be allowed at one time, according to Duwve.
Visitors also would be subject to a screening, and would need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the previous five days, or a positive antibody test taken in the previous 30 days.
Those visitors passing all screenings could visit for up to an hour, and those who do not meet all criteria may only be allowed to visit for 15 minutes, Duwve said. Masks would be worn at all times during the visit, and residents and visitors would stay six feet apart as well.
These new visitations could be suspended temporarily in a few situations, including if one or more cases is identified in the residents or staff. That instance would only suspend it for a few days while CMS protocols for testing in response to disease are established.
If three or more cases are identified in a 14-day period at a facility, testing would have to occur and visitations could not resume until 14 days after the last infected case.
"We realize this visitation, or absence of, in nursing homes and assisted living has been a tremendous burden on people," McMaster said.
Facilities will be expected to submit daily reports regarding visitors, testing, and any positive cases that arose.
Taylor said he had confidence that the chance of spreading COVID-19 further with these new guidelines was not a huge concern.
"We've taken great strides in these guidelines to prevent the transmission," Taylor said. "The risk of some type of [virus] explosion due to this activity is relatively low."