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Nursing home needs are front and center in Ohio

By ROBERT A.

DEFRANK

Times Leader Staff Writer

CEDARVILLE, Ohio — The status and future of nursing homes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues figured strongly into a talk Monday by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

Ohio’s vulnerable senior citizens have been a focus of DeWine’s efforts in making the COVID-19 vaccine available, and deaths have been high in nursing homes.

He said last week, long-term care facilities reported 343 new cases compared to December’s high of 2,832 new cases.

“COVID-19 cases in our nursing homes continues to go down,” DeWine said. “We’re definitely making progress.”

During his presentation on The Ohio Channel, DeWine addressed visitation restrictions at nursing homes. When the virus began to spread across the state, Ohio limited visitations to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in March. Outdoor visitation was permitted in June, with further outdoor activities continued in July.

In September the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issues new federal guidance and regulations. To allow visits, nursing homes must have no new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days, the facility must currently not be conducting testing, and the county positivity rate must be less than 10 percent.

“They override anything that the state does,” DeWine said. “The nursing homes must comply with these federal regulations.”

Exceptions may be made for compassionate care visits. DeWine is sending notification to every nursing home in the state, reminding them of this and to check the county positivity rate at coronavirus.ohio.gov to determine visitation status.

Nursing homes are also reminded to update their visitation databases. Residents have the right to speak to an ombudsman, who can be contacted at 800-282-1206.

DeWine said close to 60 percent of Ohioans 80 and older have received the first of the required two vaccinations, as well as 50 percent of those 75 to 80. He said vaccination availability will remain open only to those 65 and older for the foreseeable future.

“It is the age group where 87 percent of all deaths have come,” he said. “We will remain at 65 (and older) until we have basically satisfied that demand.”

Locally, Belmont County Deputy Health Director Robert Sproul did not have exact numbers at hand, but agreed nursing homes residents accounted for a significant portion of coronavirus-related fatalities.

“It was a good portion of our deaths,” he said. “I’d hate to speculate.”

Also, Sproul said vaccinations of adult school employees will begin today through Friday, with the first vaccinations at the Belmont Career Center in St. Clairsville.

The health department has also received 600 vaccine doses for Belmont County residents age 65 and older and will also host two vaccination days this week, with 300 people to be vaccinated each day.

Sproul reported 5,239 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic’s onset. There are currently 246 people isolated with active cases and 4,837 recoveries, 60 people have been hospitalized and 96 people have died after being infected with the virus. Three additional deaths were reported Monday, a man in his 80s and two women in their 70s.

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