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Several months after the state ended inside visits to assisted-living facilities and nursing homes due to COVID-19, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has loosened restrictions.

The commission on Aug. 6 released limited visitation rules for nursing homes and long-term care facilities while tightening some emergency rules.

On March 15, Texas Health and Human Services restricted access to those facilities with the exception of staff, certain medical professionals, and other essential service providers. During the time since, family members have had to visit with loved ones via phone calls, online video chats, or through closed windows. 

“Access to family and loved ones is an important part of every resident’s health and well-being, which is why this policy shift is a move in the right direction for some of our most fragile Texans,” said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

Many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across Texas have been hard hit by COVID-19, but Highland Lakes facilities have reported fewer cases. 

According to Texas Health and Human Services data, only one local facility has reported positive cases through July 23. Bertram Nursing and Rehabilitation has had 28 residents contract the disease since March. Of those, two passed away and 16 were listed as recovered as of July 23. The state relies on facilities to self-report, but it does investigate when a positive report is filed.

Fourteen other nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Burnet and Llano counties have reported no COVID-19 cases in either residents or staff.

The state’s new visitation policy is not a return to normal. Restrictions still apply for visitors and facilities.

Nursing home visits are limited to outdoor settings, and physical contact between visitors and residents is not permitted. In addition, the facility must meet the following conditions:

  • no confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in staff in the past 14 days
  • no active positive cases in residents
  • any facility previously experiencing an outbreak that has fully recovered must be adequately staffed and following adequate infection control procedures
  • facility staff must be tested weekly for COVID-19

In long-term care facilities, the state will allow limited indoor and outdoor visits, but physical contact between visitors and residents is not allowed. Other conditions the facility must meet include:

  • no confirmed positive cases in staff in the past 14 days
  • no active positive cases in residents
  • adequate staffing to facilitate visitation in compliance with infection control requirements
  • use of plexiglass as a safety barrier for indoor visitation to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19

Texas Health and Human Services will post more information and guidance on its COVID-19 provider webpage

Along with the above guidelines, the state added enhanced emergency rules for nursing homes. Each of the facilities must have a COVID-19 response plan and screen all residents, staff, and visitors for the disease. Each resident must be screened three times a day for signs or symptoms of COVID-19. 

On top of that, nursing homes must have a plan for obtaining and maintaining a two-week supply of personal protective equipment and plans for continuing care when a resident recovers from COVID-19.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are constantly assessing what actions are necessary to keep residents and staff safe in these facilities,” said Phil Wilson, acting executive commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services. “By following procedures and rules, facilities can more effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help us achieve our shared goal of reuniting residents with their families and friends.”