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Healthcare associations urge continued use of masks

While Alabama’s mask mandate is set to expire Friday, April 9, the Alabama Nursing Home Association and the Alabama Hospital Association are joining the Governor and others in calling on Alabamians to continue wearing masks to help the state sustain its progress in fighting COVID-19.

“We have made tremendous progress as a state, and we need to keep moving forward,” Alabama Nursing Home Association president and CEO Brandon Farmer said. “Research has shown that increasing community cases of COVID-19 lead to increased cases in nursing homes. Thanks to the vaccine and infection control practices, we have seen a dramatic decline in cases and have been able to open our doors to more visitors. Continuing to wear masks until the vaccine is widely available will help us lower the community spread.”

“The number of COVID-positive hospital patients has also declined significantly,” said Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson. “We realize that people are ready to leave their masks at home, but we can’t let up and risk another surge of the virus, not when we’ve come this far.  I hope Alabamians will continue to wear masks, keep a safe distance and get their vaccine when it’s offered.  These are the precautions that will keep us safe and help us more quickly return to normal.”

Both Association leaders added that masks will continue to be an important weapon in decreasing the spread of the virus in health care facilities, according to federal regulations hospitals and nursing homes will have to continue to require masks for visitors following the expiration of the mandate. “We urge other businesses to follow suit in requiring masks for their employees and patrons,” said Farmer.

The Associations are also reminding Alabamians of the limits on visitation. The amended Safer at Home Order updated in early March increased the number of visitors allowed in health care facilities to up to two (previously limited to one). However, all health care facilities operate under additional directives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that mandate certain precautions be taken with both COVID-positive patients, as well as those who are not positive and are not showing any symptoms.

“We realize restricting visitors has been traumatic for patients, families, and health care workers alike, and hospitals and nursing homes have done all they could to make use of available resources to connect families and comfort patients,” said Dr. Williamson. “However, to prevent further spread of the virus, our facilities are required to take additional precautions and to limit visitation when certain conditions exist.”

Hospitals

Alabama hospitals must follow CMS Phase 2 visitation guidance issued last summer.

For patients who have not tested positive and are not experiencing symptoms – CMS provides direction to evaluate for limited visitation based on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the facility and in the community, staffing levels, personal protective equipment levels and the ability to follow all federally mandated infection control and prevention measures.

For patients who are positive for COVID-19 or suspected of having it – CMS advises against allowing visitors and suggests the virtual option is the safest method. However, compassionate care, end-of-life visits may be possible on a limited basis, and according to evaluation of the same criteria – the health and high-risk factors of the visitor, prevalence of COVID-19 in the facility and the community, staffing levels, availability of the proper personal protective equipment and the ability to follow all federally mandated infection control and prevention measures.

Nursing Homes

Alabama nursing homes must follow visitation guidance issued March 10, 2021, by CMS.

The CMS guidance states that facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident, or visitor, unless certain scenarios arise that would limit visitation for:

  • Unvaccinated residents if; 1) the COVID-19 county positivity rate is greater than 10 percent; and 2) less than 70 percent of residents in the facility are fully vaccinated;
  • Residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated until they have met the criteria to discontinue transmission-based precautions; or
  • Residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, until they have met criteria for release from quarantine.