17848 DOH Testing Lab

Pennsylvania Commonwealth microbiologist Kerry Pollard performs a manual extraction of the coronavirus inside the extraction lab at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Laboratories on Friday, March 6, 2020.

Any new cases of COVID-19 at a nursing home mean no in-person visits at that facility for at least 28 days, under a three-step reopening process Pennsylvania regulators released Saturday.

Although end-of-life visits are allowed, other in-person visits have been banned since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the department continues to allow “window visits,” in which visitors remain outside the facility but can see the resident through glass.

In the newly released plan, Pennsylvania Department of Health permits certain kinds of visits at homes and other long-term care facilities in the second and third steps, as long as there are no new COVID-19 cases among staff and residents.

Under the new process, any new cases found send a home back to the beginning, and 28 consecutive days must pass without any new cases before it is back at step two and can resume those limited visits.

The department indicated that outdoor visits are preferable to those conducted indoors and that social distancing, universal masking and infection control protocols must be followed "during the entirety of the visit," with home staff monitoring visits "so all safety guidelines are met and enforced." 

And it said the site of the meeting should be properly disinfected after each visit.

“We continue to practice a careful, measured approach in long-term care facilities so all staff and residents can safely welcome visitors and return to a more normal routine,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a written statement.

Levine said the guidance was developed "through collective input from residents and families, stakeholders, academia and facility representatives to allow safe visitations with strong public health measures to balance the mental and physical well-being of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents."