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As More Vaccines Go Out, N.H. Moves to Allow Visits At More Long-Term Care Facilities

A resident at the New Hampshire Veterans Home receives the COVID-19 vaccine
New Hampshire Veterans Home

With COVID-19 vaccination clinics for second doses nearly complete at long-term care facilities, the state says it will release new guidance in the coming weeks to standardize in-person visits from family and loved ones.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the new guidelines are in-part a reaction to a hodgepodge of policies from individual nursing homes that is creating confusion about family visits.

“One of the reasons we are doing this is so that we can have consistency, so we don’t have one family that can visit and one family that cannot visit based on just a decision within a facility,” Shibinette said during a Thursday press conference. “We want everyone to consistently have access to their elders.”

Shibinette didn’t give details of what the new guidelines may include, but she said they could still come with some limitations: Masks and social distancing might still be required, and outdoor visits, once the weather cooperates, would be preferred.

The federal government is managing vaccinations within long-term care facilities through a partnership with pharmacy chains, including Walgreens and CVS. By the end of this week, state officials say nearly every facility in New Hampshire will have had two vaccination clinics. Visitations will be allowed 14 days after the second dose is administered, except in facilities that are managing active outbreaks.

According to Shibinette, the majority of nursing homes in the state have already begun some form of in-person visits. 

“This is something we’ve been waiting to do for a very long time, that the families and the residents are anxious to get back to in-person visits,” she said.

COVID-19 has devastated long-term care facilities nationwide. In New Hampshire, more than 800 residents or staff have been lost to the virus. The rollout of the vaccine, and declining case rates in the broader community, are helping to ease the risks in those communities.

News of expanding visitation options at long-term care facilities also comes as cases and deaths in those settings continue to fall. As of Thursday, state officials said they were monitoring just seven active outbreaks at nursing homes, jails and other congregate living facilities — down from more than 40 active outbreaks in mid-January.

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