Inslee announces phased reopening plan for nursing homes

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Long-term care facilities can now open their doors to visitors and hold activities if they meet requirements governor Jay Inslee issued that went into effect August 12.

The facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family homes, will be put into four phases, similar to Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan for the state, the governor announced during an August 6 press conference.

“We have come far enough, both in our restraint of the pandemic and in our ability to develop protocols that will work to continue to protect the physical health of our residents while giving them much greater contact with loved ones,” he said during the virtual press conference.

Facilities in phase 1 can have end-of-life visits, window visits, remote visits and outdoor visits with up to two visitors per day.

Phase 2, the phase that Whatcom County is in, includes everything in phase 1 but with no limit on the number of outdoor visitors a resident can have and residents unable to meet with family outdoors or remotely can have indoor visits from one person.

Phase 3 includes everything in phase 2 but indoor visits are not limited. Normal visitation is allowed in phase 4.

Group activities like communal dining will also be phased in. Limited activities can begin in phase 2 and visitors may participate in activities in phase 3. Group activities won’t fully resume until phase 4, according to the reopening plan.

Facilities are unable to advance to phases higher than the phase their county is in. This means long-term care facilities in Whatcom County will be unable to advance higher than phase 2. In late July, Inslee indefinitely paused counties advancing to higher phases.

“We all have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people in our community,” said state secretary of health John Wiesman. “Just as our schools are not islands, we cannot relax restrictions safely until community transmission is low. What we do individually matters collectively.”

In addition to criteria for advancing to each phase, facilities must go 28 days without a resident or staff testing positive for Covid-19 and have a minimum two-week supply of PPE.

Restrictions on long-term care facilities went into effect in March, shortly after Covid-19 spread through state nursing homes.

Whatcom County had a rate of 63 confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 in the past two weeks, according to August 12 data from the state’s risk assessment dashboard. This more than doubles the phase 2 goal of 25 new cases per 100,000 in a two-week period.

The county also didn’t meet the phase 2 goal for having more than 50 people tested per each new case for the last week. Of Whatcom County residents who were tested for Covid-19 during the past week, 3 percent tested positive, exceeding the state’s goal of 2 percent or less. The county meets the mark for the number of hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, which is 0 percent, but barely meets the goal for total occupied hospital beds at 79.6 percent. The state goal 80 percent or less.

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