Visits to nursing homes nationwide will be temporarily restricted under the national emergency that President Donald Trump declared Friday to battle the novel coronavirus.
Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the administration's guidance limits all visitors, volunteers and nonessential personnel, with a few exceptions, such as end-of-life situations.
"We fully appreciate that this measure represents a severe trial for residents of nursing homes and those who love them. But we are doing what we must to protect our vulnerable elderly," said Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, at the declaration ceremony at the White House.
The guidance also cancels all group activities and communal dining, and implements active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms.
The safety of the roughly 2.5 million nursing homes and assisted-living facility residents has been a major concern as the coronavirus sweeps across the nation. The virus is far deadlier for older people, especially when they live together. At least 19 people died at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, leading Gov. Jay Inslee to limit visitors to all nursing homes earlier this week.
The administration's move follows guidance from the industry group American Health Care Association to eliminate visits to nursing homes. Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday announced that more than 134 nursing homes across the country have adopted a "no visitors" policy to lower the risk of coronavirus exposure among vulnerable older veterans.
The CDC has advised older people and those with severe chronic medical conditions to stay home as much as possible.
The national emergency declaration gives Verma's agency additional authority to respond to the coronavirus.
To address a potential shortage of hospital beds, the agency is allowing hospitals to reserve them for the sickest patients and discharge those who are less ill to skilled nursing facilities.
The agency also took steps to make it easier for doctors to provide services outside the states they are licensed in and to facilitate the use of telehealth.