Gov. Jay Inslee announced guidance Thursday that allows long-term care facilities to offer visitation and other activities. Many long-term care facilities were forced to curtail social activities for residents and visitors earlier this year due to COVID-19.
Inslee was joined by Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Secretary Cheryl Strange, DSHS Assistant Secretary Bill Moss and Secretary of Health John Wiesman at a press conference Thursday for the announcement.
The announcement does not constitute an immediate reopening of all long-term care facilities, however. The plan goes into effect Aug. 12, and even after it becomes effective, individual facilities must meet additional parameters before re-opening.
This graduated restart plan for long-term care will give providers, residents and families direction for resuming normal activities, like visitation. The plan includes a number of public health metrics that must be met in order for facilities to move through the phases. It is modeled after the Safe Start plan.
“In fighting COVID-19, we must continue to be thoughtful and deliberate in our actions, conscious of even more devastating impacts this virus could have if we lose control of its spread, especially in facilities with our most vulnerable populations,” Inslee said during a press conference Thursday
Long-term care facilities must offer residents remote visitation in every phase. Other forms of visitation are also allowed depending on which long term care phase a facility is in.
For a facility in Phase 1 of the long-term care plan, only window, remote or outdoor visits are allowed, with an exception allowing compassionate care visits.
Phase 2 allows the same activities, with the addition of limited indoor visits for those residents unable to participate in virtual or outdoor visits. Visits in Phase 3 include all activities allowed in Phase 2, but limited indoor visits are extended to all residents.
Normal visitation is not reinstated until Phase 4 of the long-term care plan.
“The governor made the difficult, but necessary, decision in the early stages of the pandemic to prohibit visitors at the state’s long-term care facilities,” said DSHS Secretary Cheryl Strange. “It undoubtedly saved lives, but we know the five months of isolation have been incredibly hard on residents and their loved ones. This phased plan will allow families to begin to spend some time together while not compromising the health and safety of the Washingtonians most susceptible to the virus.”
The phases also establish appropriate protocols for group activities, including communal dining. Group activities are not recommended in Phase 1 facilities. Limited activities are allowed in Phase 2 facilities, and in Phase 3 facilities visitors may also participate in those activities. Normal group activities cannot resume until Phase 4 of the long term care plan
To move forward in phases, long-term care facilities also must go 28 days without a resident or staff member testing positive for COVID-19. These facilities must also have at least a 14-day supply of PPE on hand.
A facility cannot move forward a phase in the long-term care plan unless the county it is located in has advanced to at least that phase in the Safe Start plan. For example, if a facility is in a Phase 2 county, it cannot move to Phase 3 in the long-term care plan before the county moves to Phase 3 in the Safe Start plan.
Additionally, for every facility, there must be a review of key metrics evaluating a counties COVID-19 risk. Higher disease transmission rates will keep a facility at an earlier phase, even if other criteria are met.
“We all have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “Each of us can do that by limiting our activity, staying home as much as possible, keeping physical distance from others and wearing a face covering.”
Regardless of what phase each facility qualifies for, important precautions, such as social distancing, masking and screening individuals for symptoms, will remain in place.
Watch the video of the governor’s press conference here.