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COVID-19 visitation rules eased for residential care facilities

The state public health order updated this week allows fully vaccinated residents to have close contact with visitors, including touch.

COLORADO, USA — Fully vaccinated residents at residential care facilities can have close contact with visitors, including touch, under updated guidance released this week by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)

That means older adults and people with disabilities who live in nursing homes and other residential care facilities can hug their relatives again, provided their relatives wear masks and clean their hands before and after.

"The new visitation guidelines are a milestone for our residential care facilities as we continue to move towards a new normal," said Randy Kuykendall, CDPHE director of Health Facilities and EMS Division, in a statement. "The last year has been extremely difficult, and this step forward has been a long time in the making."

There are certain circumstances when indoor visitation should still be limited, according to the revised guidelines:

  • For unvaccinated residents, if the COVID-19 positivity rate in the county is over 10% and fewer than 70% of the facility's residents are fully vaccinated.
  • For residents with confirmed COVID-19 infections, whether vaccinated or not, until they meet the criteria from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to discontinue precautions.
  • For residents in quarantine, whether vaccinated or not.

"A fully vaccinated resident can have visitors come in and visit with them in their room," President of the Colorado Healthcare Association Doug Farmer said. "And in relatively close contacts, it's still advised to use social distancing, but if people are wearing a mask, and again the resident is vaccinated, then they can actually have physical contact, they can hold a family member's hand or give someone a hug. And I think that's just emotionally enormous right now."

The revised public health order doesn't factor in the vaccination status of visitors. CDPHE recommends that Coloradans get the COVID-19 vaccine when they become eligible for it.

New visitation rules couldn't come quickly enough for residents and their families.

"It's been hard, really hard. Hard for her as much has for me," said Delaine Holdeman. 

Last Summer Holderman helped move her 93-year-old mother, Betty Hogan, who suffers from dementia into an assisted living facility, Good Samaritan Society - Water Valley Senior Living Resort in Windsor.

"I think people in facilities have really struggled with not being able to see family and friends, not understanding for sure what is happening out there. It’s a whole different life here than being out and about," Holdeman said.

In December, Holdeman got to hug her mother through a plastic sheet at the facility, called a 'hug tunnel.'

Hogan is now fully vaccinated and the tunnel came to an end Thursday afternoon; for the first time in nearly a year, the two finally got to hug, in-person.  

"It was wonderful," Holdeman said. "Her warmth, I could just feel her love soaking into me."

Visitors are still required to make an appointment, give a temperature check and remain masked during their visit. Unvaccinated residents have a few additional rules requiring social distancing and ventilation.

"We were able to notify our resident's families [of the new state guidelines] yesterday and we have been overwhelmed by phone calls and emails saying, I want to come and hug my loved one," said Pam Williamson, Director of Lifestyle Enrichment at the facility. "Everyone is so excited."

Williamson expects the changes will have a great impact on residents, their families and staff members.

"The morale is going to just grow by leaps and bounds," she said. "We wish we could see all the smiles behind the masks, but we know they are there."

Residential care facility residents and staff were in Phase 1A and among the first to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis has said he expects vaccinations to open to the general public in mid-April. Click here for more information on Colorado's vaccination phases.

> Video above: The state says about 2.5 million Coloradans can now get the vaccine.

"I am optimistic about this guidance, as well the continued vaccination in our residential care facilities to ensure that residents have both physical safety and good mental health," Kuykendall said.

RELATED: Vaccine guide: What to know about getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado, and what happens next

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