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West Virginia halts nursing home visitation

CHARLESTON — After seeing an increase in deaths tied to outbreaks in nursing homes across the state, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said visitations to nursing homes would need to stop once again.

Speaking Wednesday during his coronavirus briefing from the Capitol, Justice said visitations to nursing homes would be closed as of midnight except for emergencies and end-of-life circumstances.

“We’re going to have to close visitation to all the nursing homes in West Virginia again,” Justice said. “We’ve got to some way try with all of us to calm this down.”

Justice first closed nursing homes to visitors by executive order on March 12. After a series of nursing home outbreaks in April, West Virginia became the first state in the nation to test all residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The state implemented a multi-phased plan to reopen nursing homes to visitation starting June 10.

Since Sunday, there have been 28 deaths from COVID-19 in West Virginia, with several deaths tied to nursing homes in Mercer and Grant counties. More than 11 deaths have been confirmed at the Princeton Healthcare Center with five more deaths reported from Mercer County of people in their 70s and 80s. Three deaths have been tied to Grant County, where the Pendleton Manor in Franklin has seen an outbreak.

“Across our nation, we have nursing home deaths that account for an incredible amount of the 160,000-plus deaths across our nation,” Justice said. “We have got to keep this out of our nursing homes. Some way somehow, from the standpoint of us bringing it in and visitation, and our staff more than likely bringing it in asymptomatic.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, there are 28 outbreaks in nursing homes across the state. DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said while most of the previous cases in nursing homes were just one or two cases except for a couple of facilities, many of the new outbreaks involve five or more cases. Many of these cases stem from nursing home staff traveling out of state and returning with the virus.

“We know individuals who are part of the community, whether they work in health care or work in a grocery store, etc., who are bringing this disease back to West Virginia after traveling out of state,” Crouch said. “We had a conversation earlier about trying to get some educational efforts out to folks not only in nursing homes, but in hospitals where we are seeing more and more staff turn positive with this disease.”

The DHHR’s Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification developed a phased reopening plan back in June. The plan included four color-coded phases which involved screening of visitors, limiting non-essential personnel in facilities, as well as group activities and dining. Crouch said there were issues in implementing this system, issues DHHR hopes to learn from as it implements a similar color-coded system for safely reopening schools.

“We never did define ‘substantial community spread’ as a part of that,” Crouch said. “Of course, many nursing homes had gone ahead and closed visitation based upon the amount of disease in the community. We’re looking at the alert system, as well as the school alert system, and the definition of substantial community spread and trying to make sure all of those things are consistent with each other as we move forward.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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