SEATTLE — Calling it a “big step forward,” Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced how visitors may return to nursing homes and other long term care operations — six months after the country’s first known coronavirus outbreak devastated a Kirkland facility.
“We have come far enough in both our restraint in the pandemic and in our ability to develop protocols that will work,” Inslee said at a news conference.
The state is issuing a four-phase guideline on visitation that encourages outdoor meetings and correlates with the governor’s four-phase county reopening plan.
There are 58,000 people living in about 4,000 licensed care facilities statewide. Cheryl Strange, secretary of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, said regulators have visited every single facility to do infection control surveys.
Starting Aug. 12, individual nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family homes may apply to the state for approval to allow visitors.
The state has restricted all visitors to such facilities — with the exception of compassionate and end-of-life care units — since March. That was when the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland became the first long-term care facility with a deadly COVID-19 cluster in the U.S..
A facility cannot move to a phase higher than the county where it is located, and the operation is not automatically granted visitor approval regardless of the county’s phase. The nursing home must also prove it hasn’t had a positive coronavirus infection among any residents or workers in the past 28 days and that it has at least a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment on hand.
“You have to jump through a lot of hoops — in addition to being in the same phase that your county is in — to allow less restrictions,” Strange said.
Nearly all care facilities in the state will begin in the first phase for visitation, which allows for compassionate, window, remote and outdoor visits.