State Lifts Most Nursing Home Restrictions; COVID Cases Stubbornly Steady in Westchester

New York State has lifted most of the severe restrictions on nursing home visitation after some residents hadn’t seen their relatives face to face for a full year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced late Thursday afternoon that all nursing home residents will be allowed to have visitors effective immediately except for unvaccinated residents in areas of high community spread and lower resident vaccination rates, residents with confirmed COVID-19 infection or those in isolation or quarantine.

Facilities must still follow all infection control practices.

“We now have three effective vaccines that are leading to significant decreases in long-term care COVID cases and a robust staff testing system to limit community spread from entering a facility,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement. “Now is an appropriate time to take the next step and safely reconnect this community with their families.”

COVID-19 cases have decreased more than 80 percent since the post-holiday peak in mid-January, allowing the state to ease restrictions. Thursday’s announcement comes just over a month after guidance issued on Feb. 23 that required a nursing home to be COVID-free for 14 days.

“We understand the emotional toll that this community has experienced by being separated from their loved ones during a particularly challenging year,” said state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “We’re confident that these facilities can continue strong infection control practices that will allow for the safe visitation they have dearly missed.”

Citizen Health Training

New York State has arranged for all residents to be trained for a public health crisis by offering a free online course with the goal of preventing and responding to future emergencies.

Registration opened Thursday for the Citizen Public Health Training Program, which will not only help people during the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic but in any future crises, Cuomo said.

The curriculum was developed and is being offered by Cornell University, which has also enlisted a variety of its own professors and professors from the SUNY system. It will address topics such as COVID-19 prevention; COVID-19 vaccines; health literacy; health priorities and equity; public health improvement and community leadership; public health preparedness; and health impacts from emergency events.

Cuomo urged everyone to sign up for the 16-hour course. The course is set to begin on Apr. 30.

“I think having the information and knowledge will go a long way toward reducing the anxiety that people felt now,” he said. “People felt out of control – isolated and out of control.”

Dr. Lorin Warnick of Cornell University will oversee the program. He said the program’s goal is to increase understanding and improve public health so the general public will be better equipped to respond.

“The material will help people understand the principles needed to respond to COVID-19, including prevention and vaccination efforts. and these modules also motivate participation in personal and community health promotion, and this will in turn will help build preparedness in future health emergencies,” Warnick said.

While everyone is looking forward to the time when the population reaches herd immunity, Cuomo warned that when COVID-19 is done it likely won’t be the last time there is a worldwide pandemic.

He pointed to how there have been public health scares over the past 25 years that had similarly threatened the global community but failed to mushroom into a pandemic. That included the avian flu in 1996-97, SARS in 2002, the swine flu in 2009, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014 and Zika in 2016.

“Every few years we have been warned and what happened? We didn’t really make the changes, (take) the precautions that needed to be put in place,” Cuomo said.

To register for the program or for more information, visit www.ny.gov/citizenpublichealth.

Cases, Hospitalizations Stubbornly Steady in Westchester County

Active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Westchester continue at relatively constant levels. On Tuesday, there were 5,325 cases in the county, up from 5,233 last weekend. Hospitalizations stood at 284 as of Tuesday, also up from last weekend.

On Saturday there were 256 COVID-19-related hospitalizations.

County Executive George Latimer said with the improving weather and increased vaccinations, he’s hopeful those numbers will soon begin to be markedly reduced.

“As we get closer to the spring, both the warm weather, which will get more people outside, we think it makes it less communicable, and then also the presence of vaccinations,” Latimer said.

There have been more than 182,000 doses given in Westchester with 16 percent of the population fully vaccinated and about 31 percent of residents having received one shot.

However, on Tuesday and Wednesday the Hudson Valley region leads the state’s 10 regions in percentage of positive cases with 4.7 percent each day, according to the state’s COVID-19 tracker. Westchester on Wednesday had a 3.8 percent positivity rate while Putnam and Rockland were at more than 5 percent. 

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