Image of a senior man recuperating in a hospital bed
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The federal government and the nation’s largest nursing home association are calling on providers to limit — and in some cases restrict — visitor access in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in facilities across the country.  

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the American Health Care Association released similar guidance for nursing homes Monday evening that call for providers to actively screen and limit visitor access to facilities. 

“This is unprecedented action that we’re taking and are pleased that shortly after we issued that recommendation that CMS issued nearly identical guidance last night,” AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson said during a Tuesday morning conference call with stakeholders.

Per the CMS guidance, facilities should “actively screen and restrict” visitors who have either shown symptoms of a respiratory infection; come into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19; traveled internationally to a country within the last 14 days that has sustained community transmission; or reside in a community where the disease is spreading. It also issued a memo on the topic Monday.

If visitors pass the screening and are allowed to enter, the guidance suggests that facilities give them access to their resident’s room only. 

The guidance also calls for additional signage at visitor entries, offering body temperature checks, increasing availability of hand sanitizer and offering personal protective equipment to people who do enter. 

However, AHCA also is “strongly encouraging” that providers limit access to only essential visitors, like healthcare personnel. It also calls for requiring individuals coming in to wash their hands at entry and setting up a process that allows remote communication for residents and others. 

“We’re asking for cooperation among the public to help us limit this healthcare risk by limiting visits to just people that absolutely have to be in our buildings,” Parkinson said. 

Nationally, more than 740 cases of coronavirus have been reported, with the number expected to grow. A Seattle-area nursing home, where 16 patients have already died, has been considered the epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S., though many other pockets are showing signs of infected individuals. David Gifford, M.D., chief medical officer at AHCA/NCAL, said Tuesday that people at two nursing homes and one assisted living facility in King County in Washington have tested positive for COVID-19.