Close up image of a caretaker helping older woman walk

Communal dining and group activities can resume today at Rhode Island nursing homes, but only under strict guidelines released by the state’s Department of Health.

The guidance, which was released Monday, encourages facilities to first develop policies and procedures, implement training for staff members and continue communication with local and state authorities, residents, their families and staff members before they consider easing communal dining and group activity restrictions. 

The guidance also allows only facilities that have had no new COVID-19 cases for 14 days to resume the activities, under several conditions. 

Requirements for resuming communal dining at nursing homes include having all dining room staff and residents wear masks or face coverings, screening of residents before they enter the dining room and ensuring physical distancing is maintained. 

Providers also are required to keep the same residents’ seats at the same table each day, limit the sharing of condiments and utensils and ensure residents wash their hands before they enter the dining room. 

The conditions are similar for resuming group activities. 

Facilities must promote social distancing, conduct activities in small groups of five or fewer and keep residents in the same group each day to limit interactions. Staff and residents also should wear masks or face coverings, residents’ hands should be washed before each activity and activity items should not be shared among residents. 

“The goal is for nursing homes to initially implement plans that have the lowest possible risk,” the agency said. “These guidelines are designed to help you continue to protect your residents as they begin to return to their communal lives.” 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced a temporary ban on communal dining and group activities at nursing homes in mid-March. A CMS memo on April 24 clarified that asymptomatic residents were not forced to eat in their rooms but had to observe social distancing guidelines at all times, and could do so only if they did not have signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection, and were “without a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.”