LUMBERTON — Nursing homes in Robeson County do not qualify for a change in state rules that allow indoor visitation, according to the county’s top health official.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued on Monday a Secretarial Order updating visitation guidelines for nursing homes to allow indoor visitation. The rules change was made possible by key metrics remaining stable in across the state and the fact that strong infection and control requirements remain in place, according to the state health agency.
“We have focused on protecting the health of nursing home residents since the start of this crisis. 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,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, NCDHHS secretary.
But, indoor visitation will not be allowed in nursing homes in Robeson County, said Bill Smith, county Health Department director. While drive-through COVID-19 testing events have yielded a positivity rate of less than 5%, the state has determined that Robeson County’s rate is 11%.
“This takes into account all testing done with labs electronically submitted to the state,” Smith said. “As such, this option is not available to our nursing homes given the information we have on hand.”
As of Friday, only two in-county nursing homes remained on NCDHHS’ list of residential long-term care facilities with outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. They are Pembroke Center, located at 210 E. Wardell in Pembroke, and Wesley Pines Retirement Center, 1000 Wesley Pines Road in Lumberton.
As of 4 p.m. Friday, Pembroke Center had 14 cases and no deaths among staff, and 30 cases and no deaths among residents, according to the state agency’s list. Wesley Pines Retirement Center had three cases and no deaths among staff, and one case and no deaths among residents.
As many as three facilities in Robeson County were on the list at at time during the summer. But, managers at the facilities reported in August that they had seen a decline in cases and were continuing efforts to keep patients and staff safe.
Indoor visitation will be permitted only in nursing homes with no COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days and in counties with a percent positive testing rate of less than 10%, according to the state health agency.
“The updated order reflects the state’s dimmer switch approach to responsibly ease restrictions, while maintaining strong prevention measures. North Carolina continues to build on the early and aggressive actions it took to protect nursing home residents and staff,” a NCDHHS release reads in part.
In addition to restricting visitation at the start of the pandemic, the state has provided personal protective equipment; helped fill staffing shortages; provided infection prevention and control training, support teams and targeted funding; mandated testing; and completed on-site infection control inspections of North Carolina’s more than 400 nursing homes, according to the NCDHHS.
“In a congregate living setting, a COVID-19 outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases. An outbreak is considered over if there is not evidence of continued transmission within the facility,” the NCDHHS website reads in part. “This is measured as 28 days after the latest date of onset in a symptomatic person or the first date of specimen collection from the most recent asymptomatic person, whichever is later. If another case is detected in a facility after an outbreak is declared over, the outbreak is not reopened. It is counted as a case in congregate living settings, and if a second case is detected within 28 days in the same facility, it is considered a second, new outbreak in that facility.”