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Rep. Balderson Says It's Time To Ease COVID Visitation Rules At Nursing Homes

Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) speaking at Middleton Senior Living in Granville.
Nick Evans
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Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) speaking at Middleton Senior Living in Granville.

Rep. Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) is urging Gov. Mike DeWine and federal health authorities to loosen visitation guidelines at nursing homes.

COVID-19 has been especially deadly in nursing homes, with nearly 7,000 residents succumbing to the disease in the last year. The congregate setting means easier transmission, and elderly residents are more susceptible than other age groups to the disease.

As a result, Ohio put nursing home residents and staff near the front of the line for vaccinations. Now Balderson argues it’s time to ease restrictions for visitors.

“We should be moving as fast and quickly as possible to remove restrictions and reopen the facilities to family and friends,” Balderson says. “We have the tools to do it safely vaccinations, rapid testing, PPE, so let’s get moving.”

Ohio is currently following nursing home directives issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. Under those guidelines, nursing homes can allow visitation only when there are no new cases at the facility for two weeks, they aren’t conducting outbreak testing, and the county positivity rate is below 10%.

Meanwhile, end-of-life and "compassionate care" visitations – to provide comfort to someone whose mental or physical wellbeing is suffering or at risk of declining – are allowed even if facilities don't meet the CMS benchmarks.

Balderson doesn’t single out a particular element of those restrictions, but says that between vaccinations and familiar public health precautions, visits can be handled safely.

“The guidelines are still going to be in place,” he says. “Social distancing, washing out hands and wearing a mask when they come into this facility, but just allow those loved ones to come in here and visit.”

As Balderson was speaking, the CDC released new guidance for fully-vaccinated people, suggesting that sort of visit is probably safe. Under those guidelines, people who are two weeks past their final dose of vaccine can spend time inside and unmasked with others who are also fully vaccinated, or with unvaccinated but low-risk people from a single household.

In addition, the CDC indicates that fully vaccinated individuals can safely interact with unvaccinated people more generally as long as they stick to wearing a face mask and maintaining physical distance.

What lingering questions do you have about COVID-19, the vaccines and Ohio's response? Ask below and WOSU may answer as part of our A Year Of COVID series.

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