On Thursday, March 4, state health officials announced that, since new coronavirus cases in North Carolina’s long-term care facilities have declined so rapidly in the last several weeks, most nursing homes and other long-term care facilities can resume indoor visitation as long as people continue to follow infection prevention recommendations.

According to the latest numbers, case rates in long-term care facilities have dropped more than 15-fold in the state since the peak of transmission, which was in January.  It’s that rapid decline in new cases that’s motivating the state to loosen up visitation restrictions.

 Federal and state guidelines do have additional criteria in order for facilities to resume indoor visitation, which includes having no new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.  Also, Medicare-certified skilled-nursing facilities must meet some additional criteria required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

State officials say the rapid decline in case numbers at nursing homes is due to the state’s early vaccination prioritization for residents and staff in those facilities.  More than 205,000 vaccines have been given to long-term care staff and residents – and those vaccinations are continuing at a solid pace.

“Protecting our residents and staff in long-term care has been a top priority in our pandemic response efforts and seeing cases decrease in these settings is heartening,” said NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen in a press release announcing the changes Thursday. “I know it has a been a long, difficult year for residents and families, but those measures saved lives and are now allowing us to resume safe, indoor visitation. While we need to continue infection prevention practices, this decrease is also a positive sign of the impact vaccinations have in our communities.”