Ohio will begin allowing indoor visitation at nursing homes, long-term care centers and intermediate care facilities, months after closing their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Intermediate care facilites, which house people with developmental disabilities, can resume indoor visits this coming Monday, September 28. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities can follow on October 12.
Among Ohio's first actions when the pandemic began this spring was to stop visitation at nursing homes and other places that care for at-risk populations. Ohio Department of Aging director Ursel McElroy said she understands the stress that lack of connections has put on residents, families and staff members.
"Those prolonged loss of connections are critical," McElroy says.
Ohio has permitted outdoor visits at assisted living facilities since June, and at nursing homes since July. But DeWine said the approach of cold weather has necessitated the creation of guidelines for indoor visits, which will be issued in the coming days.
According to McElroy, nursing homes and long-term care facilities will restrict residents to two visitors at a time, for a maximum of 30 minutes per visit. All visitors will be required to wear a face mask supplied by the facility, and must maintain social distance with family members.
"Indoor visitation does not signal that we can be less cautious," McElroy say.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ohio's Department of Health reports a total of 2,988 coronavirus deaths at nursing homes, which account for almost 70% of the state's total deaths.
Before opening for indoor visitations, McElroy says each facility has to consider the case of COVID-19 spread in their larger community, and within their building. Facilities also need to ensure they have sufficient personal protective equipment and testing ability, as well as local hospital capacity should an outbreak occur.
All visitors must schedule their visits in advance, and both visitors and staff will undergo a health screening before entering the building. Facilities must also keep a log of visitors.
"We own our behavior, and our actions and inactions will be so critical," McElroy said.
Similar guidelines will be issued for intermediate care facilities.
The Ohio Department of Health on Thursday reported an increase of 992 new COVID-19 cases and 28 more deaths in the last day. That brings the state to a total of 147,744 cumulative cases and 4,715 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Ohio also reported 74 more hospitalizations and 10 more ICU admissions.
DeWine says this marks the first time in a while that Ohio's 21-day reported case average is below 1,000 cases. However, several more counties have increased to level three "red" public health emergencies this week, showing a severe spread of COVID-19.
There are now nine "red" counties: Ashland, Delaware, Pike, Scioto, Stark, Butler, Montgomery, Putnam and Mercer.
DeWine says the western part of the state is being especially hard-hit by the pandemic. Mercer County now leads the state with a rate of 257 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last week.
Pike County, in southern Ohio, has seen its number of daily cases double in the past two weeks – bringing it to a level three emergency for the first time.
DeWine says Ohio is also introducing expanded guidance on higher education that will ask "all our residential colleges and universities ensure that they are regularly testing a sample population of their students."
While the state isn't setting a requirement for how big this sample size should be, it's recommending the schools should aim to test at least 3% of their student body, regardless of their symptoms.
DeWine mentioned several schools, including Ohio State University and the University of Dayton, where widespread COVID-19 testing and isolation protocols have allowed schools to decrease their positivity rates.