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Visitation rules tighten again as infections climb

Citing concern over the escalation of positive COVID-19 community infections, Sharon Hospital has once again suspended social visitation. 

The Aug. 19 announcement, by the hospital’s parent company, Nuvance Health, also applies across its entire health care network. The decision came one day after Connecticut’s daily COVID-19 positivity rate rose to 4.25%, the highest infection rate in the state since the spring.

In addition, the Geer Village senior community in North Canaan has temporarily halted visitation at The Lodge Assisted Living complex due to one independent resident having recently tested positive for COVID-19. Group activities, too, are halted. 

In Salisbury, Noble Horizons senior community remains COVID-free and was open for visitation as of Aug. 18, according to Administrator Bill Pond.

Timothy Brown at Sharon Health Care said on Monday, Aug. 23, after this issue went to press (a day early, in expectation of Hurricane Henri), that there are not yet any limitations on visits to the center, and there will not be, “unless there is an ‘outbreak’ declared, which means one of more positive COVID tests from either patients or staff.”

Policy to be ‘re-evaluated regularly’

The updated Sharon Hospital visitation policy includes inpatient hospital units, emergency departments, ambulatory services and Nuvance Health medical practice offices, and allows for exemptions for special patient populations and extenuating circumstances.

“This is a very important way to limit the risk of possible exposure to COVID-19 to you, your loved ones and the community,” said Stephen Meth, Chief Experience Officer for Nuvance Health, in making the announcement.

Special populations or extenuating circumstances include patients under 21, neonatal intensive care units, maternity departments, end-of-life patients or people with physical, intellectual, development or cognitive disabilities.

 “We know that visitors and loved ones play an essential role as partners in healing and wellness,” said Meth. “That’s why this visitation policy will be reevaluated regularly and removed as soon as conditions allow.”

Nuvance Health further urged community members to vaccinate against COVID-19 and stop further spread of the virus. The visitation policy can be found at www.nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus.

Connecticut’s 4.25% COVID-19 positivity rate accounts for 700 positive tests among 16,485 people tested. As of Aug. 17, according to Gov. Ned Lamont, an additional 321 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus, the highest number of hospitalizations in the state since early May.

The Lodge at Geer is off-limits

The infected resident at Geer Village had been fully vaccinated and was not showing symptoms of COVID-19, according to O’Connell, who noted that the individual is believed to have had exposure outside of the Geer campus.

In response, contact tracing was conducted and testing of residents and staff began Aug. 19. All residents were tested with both rapid antigen and PCR tests, and all initial rapid antigen tests came back negative. Once negative test results are achieved for a minimum of 14 days, “we will loosen the restrictions and open back up,” said the Geer CEO. “We’re only restricting movement between the buildings.”

In the meantime, O’Connell is keeping a watchful eye on Connecticut’s rising infection rate, especially in light of a recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a nursing home in North Adams, Mass., where seven resident death have been reported. 

“We’re just so nervous. But at Geer we have a very good vaccination rate and feel confident that even if someone tests positive,” that the illness will be brief and not severe.

A total of 70 people (staff and residents) at the North Adams facility had tested positive for the coronavirus in the past month, including unvaccinated staff. By order of Gov. Charlie Baker, all staff in long-term care facilities in Massachusetts must be vaccinated by Oct. 10.

Gov. Lamont issued a similar vaccine mandate in Connecticut on Aug. 6, as did the federal government. But O’Connell said he is disappointed that the call for mandatory vaccinations fell short by not mandating that home care workers also be required to roll up their sleeves.

 “If they are so worried …then it should be across the board for all health-care workers,” not just nursing homes and other direct-care settings, said the Geer administrator. “We are in a very significant [hiring] crisis, and if people who are not vaccinated see they can get away from the mandate” by job-hopping, “then they will,” exacerbating the staffing shortage, noted O’Connell.

Noble Horizons administrator Pond concurred with O’Connell’s assessment. “We have resisted mandatory vaccinations from the beginning, primarily for that reason,” he said referring to staff who would opt to go “elsewhere where the vaccine is not mandated,” including the home-care field. 

“If we did do it on our own, we faced the possibility of losing staff. Now that it’s universal, it’s a lot better in terms of staffing.” But the key going forward, he said, is unity, particularly in the Tristate area. “As more and more places begin to mandate the vaccine, regardless of the industry, it will help all of us, especially in the Northwest Corner.”

Pond is thankful his facility’s campus has remained infection-free since the pandemic started, “18 months and running,” but all it would take is one positive test within the Noble community, he said, to restrict visitation, something he has not had to consider since the COVID-19 outbreak and hopes he never will.

 “All of us have learned a lot” over the past year and half, said Pond. But one thing, he said, is certain. “It is very clear that vaccines have made a difference.” 


This article was updated on Aug. 24 to include a comment by Timothy Brown from Athena Health/Sharon Health Care, who could not be reached in time for our early deadline (the morning of Aug. 23) for the print edition of Aug. 26.

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