The spread of COVID-19 within a community and a facility’s ability to handle an outbreak should be key indicators for officials when deciding if in-person visits should resume at nursing homes, the leader of the nation’s largest nursing home association urged. 

“Reopening requires a delicate balance of observing the real-time data at the local level and preparing long term care facilities for what may be a prolonged fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic,” wrote Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, wrote in a new op-ed.

Parkinson stressed that until a vaccine or therapeutic treatment becomes available, COVID-19 will remain a “formidable threat” for facilities. Regulators and officials should base any visitation decisions on their understanding of the disease and most effective approaches for stopping the spread.

Officials must ensure that the rate of infection within a nursing home’s surrounding community must first be considered before accepting outside visitors. “Research shows that no level of precaution can fully protect residents and staff who are surrounded by densely packed, highly-infected communities,” he added.

Additionally, a provider’s ability to obtain personal protective equipment, conduct widespread and ongoing testing, and if they have the financial tools to support those added costs should also play a role in the decision to reopening long-term care facilities to visitors. 

“Nursing homes and assisted living communities have undoubtedly seen the most devastation from the virus. To avoid further tragedy, we must reopen our long-term care facilities in a thoughtful and careful manner,” he concluded.