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Relaxed federal guidelines for nursing home visits in Washington and nationwide

Long-term care facilities were one of the industries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal guidelines released Wednesday relax rules on nursing home visits, one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Long-term care facilities were one of the industries hit hardest by the coronavirus.

Among the changes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS), nursing home residents vaccinated against COVID-19 can get hugs again from loved ones, and indoor visits may be allowed for all residents. Facilities are also required to isolate an outbreak, if possible, rather than shutting down all visitations entirely.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that fully vaccinated people can gather without a mask or social distancing.

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Advocates have been calling for these loosened restrictions, while Washington state will review the federal nursing home guidelines.

Robin Dale is president and CEO of the Washington Health Care Association, a nonprofit that represents roughly 90% of the skilled nursing home industry in the state and 75% of assisted living facilities.

“We are a highly-regulated sector and we take our cues from the regulators, and until they give us the all-clear, we have to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last year,” said Dale.

The new nursing home guidelines are great news for Michael Wilson, whose 87-year-old mother lives at a long-term care facility in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.

“I have been fortunate to have telephone conversations with her, but I haven’t seen her since February of last year,” Wilson said.

As for Life Care Center of Kirkland, home of the first U.S. coronavirus outbreak, 87% percent of residents and most staff had been vaccinated as of January.