One of the saddest elements of the coronavirus pandemic and the rules meant to prevent the spread of the disease has been an inability of some to visit friends and family members in nursing homes.

On Monday, Sept 28, there was a ray of light in that regard as the state eased up on restrictions surrounding visitation, citing a stabilization in the spread of the virus.

“As North Carolina’s key metrics continue to remain stable and strong infection prevention and control requirements remain in place,” reads a Monday press release announcing the changes, “the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) today issued a Secretarial Order updating visitation guidelines for nursing homes to allow indoor visitation.”

Under the new rules, indoor visitation at nursing homes will be permitted if the home has seen no COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days – as long as that home is in a county with a percent positive virus testing rate of less than 10 percent.

There are over 400 nursing homes across the state.

State officials said the determination is based on guidance from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

According to a recent report in The New York Times, about 40 percent of the deaths related to COVID-19 across the country have been tied to nursing homes. When the pandemic first hit America, nursing homes were hit hard and it quickly became apparent that the elderly were at a much greater risk of dying from the disease than younger people.

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen stated in the press release that nursing homes have been a major point of concern for state health officials this year.

“We have focused on protecting the health of nursing home residents since the start of this crisis,” Cohen said. “Our progress in testing, infection control and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities allows us to move forward with safe indoor visitation in accordance with federal guidance.”

According to state officials, the updated order reflects the state’s “dimmer switch approach” to responsibly easing restrictions while simultaneously maintaining strong prevention measures.