COLUMBIA, S.C. — DHEC’s new guidelines will allow in-person, indoor visitations for nursing homes if the facility’s county has an equal to or less than 10 percent positivity rate and there are no cases on staff.
The facility also must have maintained CMS’ core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention.
Only six counties in the state have a greater than 10 percent positivity rate, according to DHEC. Horry County has a 10 percent positivity rate as of the March 3 report.
As of Wednesday, nursing homes that meet these standards are required to allow in-person indoor visitations if:
- A less than or equal to 10 percent positivity rate in the county in which the facility is located, using DHEC’s data, and
- No COVID-19 cases among staff and/or residents in the past 14 days, and
- Maintained CMS’ core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention
The six counties with a higher than 10% positivity rate are: Allendale, Barnwell, Chesterfield, Lancaster, McCormick and York.
South Carolina received federal approval to update the visitation guidelines for nursing homes DHECC announced on Wednesday.
These updated guidelines require facilities to use DHEC’s percent positive by county data to help determine their visitation status.
Prior to the change in guidelines, 177 facilities were not allowing visitation. Of those, 43 facilities specifically cited county percentage positive as the reason and are now in one of the 40 counties that have a percentage positive of 10 percent or less. They should be able to open to visitation if they otherwise meet the criteria above.
“Too many South Carolinians have been prohibited from visiting their loved ones in long-term care facilities because of overburdensome federal guidelines,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “Prioritizing the physical health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens is critically important, but we must also protect their mental and emotional health. These updated guidelines represent important progress and will result in many facilities opening for visitation, but there’s more work to be done and we will continue pushing federal agencies to allow expanded visitation.”
Tom Herron, a resident at Covenant Towers retirement home said he hasn’t seen his family in over a year. “The loneliness and the pain of that is almost as bad as the disease, it’s really just been awful,” Herron said.
Covenant Towers is an independent living facility so they’ve been more lenient with visitations but still residents wanted to take precautions being in a more vulnerable age group.
“That’s one of the biggest things that we saw early on was the impact it was having on people. Having outdoor activities, and sending puzzles to their rooms, different things like that, that they could stay engaged and feel that sense of community, even with the isolation that we’ve had,” Jeff Patterson, Executive director at Covenant Towers said.
With more residents becoming fully vaccinated, Herron said there’s now hope.
“I will have my second one in about 2 weeks and when that happens I’m getting on an airplane and flying to New York to see the kids,” Herron said.
Vaccinations of Long-term Care Residents and Staff
As of today, 100 percent (193 out of 193) of the state’s nursing homes have had their first COVID-19 vaccination clinic completed and 86 percent (166 of 193) have had their second clinic completed, with additional clinics scheduled. A total of 98 percent (485 of 495) of the state’s community residential care facilities have had their first vaccination clinic completed and 86 percent (424 of 495) have had their second clinic completed, with additional clinics scheduled.
“When COVID-19 first spread across the country, long-term care facilities were devastated as the virus took its toll on nursing home residents who were among the most vulnerable to the virus,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC Director. “In South Carolina, efforts had been underway to prepare long-term care facilities for the arrival of the virus, and DHEC has worked with facilities to help implement disease prevention protocols. Still, we lost many loved ones to this deadly virus. That’s why we prioritized nursing home residents among the first to be vaccinated, and after a massive statewide effort, nearly all long-term care facility residents in the state now have had the opportunity to get their life-saving shots.”
“Allowing visitation to the greatest degree possible consistent with safety for residents, staff, and visitors, is extremely important to residents’ mental and physical health and also for their families,” said Simmer. “The updated guidelines will help ensure as many residents as possible can have safe, in-person contact with family and friends.”
DHEC’s Percent Positive by County Data
Until today, visitation guidelines for outdoor and indoor visitation at nursing homes and community residential care facilities (commonly referred to as assisted living facilities) have been based on percent positive data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). However, the data that CMS/U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives is based on several different data sources used to calculate percent positives. Today’s updated guidelines direct South Carolina’s long-term care facilities to instead use DHEC’s percent positive by county data.
DHEC uses the tests-over-tests method for calculating percent positive, which is the same method used by the CDC. Therefore, the state-generated percent positive data is appropriate to use for determining visitation.
Facilities should also continue to allow outdoor visitation, virtual visits, and window visits consistent with DHEC’s guidelines. The public is strongly encouraged to contact the nursing home or assisted living facility to confirm their visitation status and policies and procedures prior to planning to visit a loved one.
For the latest information about nursing homes and extended care facilities impacted by COVID-19, including cases and deaths, visitation status, and county percent positivity rates, click here. For the latest COVID-19 information in South Carolina, click here.