Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Nursing home visitation ban lifted; will be tied to color-coded County Alert System

MORGANTOWN — The current statewide ban on nursing home visitation ends Tuesday morning, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch announced during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Gov. Jim Justice suspended nursing home visitation Aug. 13 following a series of outbreaks. Crouch said since then, the state has worked with the West Virginia Health Care Association to develop guidance to reopen them.

With the ban lifted, visitation will be tied to the County Alert System avaialbel at the DHHR COVID-19 dashboard,, Crouch said. Visitation will be permitted in green and yellow counties. For orange counties, only compassionate care visits will be permitted. Visitation will be prohibited in red counties.

When visitation is permitted, he said, he urged friends and family to call ahead and make appointments so the homes can manage access.

Justice reported there are 31 nursing home outbreaks around the state. As always, the policy is run to the fire. But “getting the fire out is not good.” Because some people still die. “We’ve got to some way stop the fire from happening.”

Asked about lessons learned from the outbreaks, Crouch said they understand the need for rapid response. They are forming strike Teams to visit affected homes as quickly as possible.

The teams will be composed of physicians, long-term care nurses, the regional epidemiologist and local health department representatives, he said. “These outbreaks are just difficult to contain once they get into a building.”

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh answered a question about what happens if a child in a school tests positive.

The child will be removed from the classroom, Marsh said. The school will send the whole class home for a day or two while the local health department conducts contact tracing.

Justice commented, “Going back to school won’t be perfect. … That’s why we give you choices.” Everything from going to Walmart to visiting neighbors has risk while we wait for a vaccine. For schools, the state’s job is to work to minimize risk and maximize safety. They’d like to get as close to 100% safe as possible.

Justice and Marsh both praised the effects of the mask mandate issued July 7. Justice showed a chart illustrating how state case numbers were climbing, and continued to climb for some days after the mandate. But then they peaked and started a steady decline.

“That order saved a ton of lives that’s all there is to it,” Justice said. And that’s because while not everyone liked the order, virtually everyone complied with it.

Marsh echoed that: “The executive order for face coverings has really made a dramatic and positive improvement.” Smaller outbreaks will be a fact of life but the goal is to keep the positive rate (reative to tests performed) below 3% so that local outbreaks can be addressed.

Marsh also commented on the incidence of a Hong Kong man who was reinfected about four months after recovering from a mild case of COVID-19.

The genetics of the virus were different in his second bout, marsh said, which is typical of a coronavirus, he said. And we know that antibody levels tend to drop after three to four months.

The incidence indicates, he said, that recovering from COVID-19 may protect a person against a more severe form later, but it’s not a complete protection.

“So this is a real warning for a lot of our younger people and people that may not consider themselves so vulnerable,” he said, “because we know now that getting the disease is not necessarily a lifetime of immune protection.”

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