Q: I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and feel a great sense of gratitude and relief. Is it finally OK for me to visit my aunt in her long-term care facility?
A: Becoming fully vaccinated is certainly a milestone. Many long-term care facilities are allowing visitors for the first time in a year.
This is wonderful news, but we must keep everyone safe when we visit. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has provided guidelines about visiting long-term care facilities.
Facilities must designate a specific space, indoors or outdoors, where people may gather. You are allowed to visit a resident recovered from COVID-19; a resident who is recently discharged from a hospital and who is quarantined but not suspected or confirmed to be infected; or a resident who is not quarantined and has never tested positive.
You should expect to be screened for COVID as you enter the facility. Staff will ask you a series of health screening questions and check your temperature.
Anyone with signs of COVID will not be permitted to visit, regardless of their vaccination status. These precautions are necessary because even fully vaccinated people can still spread the virus.
You and your aunt will be expected to remain masked during your entire visit. Visitors are requested to practice social distancing with everyone they encounter, staying at least six feet apart from residents and staff for the majority of a visit.
If both parties feel comfortable with close contact, they may act accordingly. However, the state advises people to limit the duration of close contact, hug facing in opposite directions, and avoid face-to-face contact, even when masked. If you and your aunt are both fully vaccinated, you may meet in her room. To do this, any roommate(s) must also be fully vaccinated.
Many facilities limit the length people may visit but Massachusetts guidelines specify that facilities must permit visits to last a minimum of 45 minutes. Facilities may restrict visit hours, depending upon the availability of time and space.
Facilities will accommodate visits in instances of compassionate care, regardless of anyone’s vaccination status. Compassionate care encompasses end-of-life situations, when residents are grieving a death, or when they need encouragement from a loved one to prompt them to eat or drink.
While these are the regulations currently in effect, they may change as the COVID situation evolves. We all look forward to the day when they, at last, become unnecessary.
Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.