Celebrating the holidays with family and residents will be vastly different this year. Facilities are attempting to make the holidays a celebration despite the “no visitor” policy. DSS released a provider information notice or PIN about its position on holiday gatherings in light of COVID-19 (C-19).
Residents in long-term facilities are at higher risk of severe illness or death from C-19 because of chronic medical conditions. Facility staff are strongly urged not to attend any gatherings or keep gathering to immediate family only. DSS is advising administrators to inform residents’ family members to not take the resident home, to not subject them to others, to participate in the effort to “flatten the curve.” It wants residents and families to consider the number and rate of C-19 cases in the community where any gathering will take place. DSS states gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area.
For residents returning from any outing must screen returning residents for signs and symptoms of C-19, and immediately test symptomatic residents and isolate them in a single room pending test results. Ask each resident or family member if they were in contact with someone who tested positive for C-19 or did not take any precautionary measures (physical distancing, wearing a face covering, or engaging in exposure-type activities.
DSS’ guidance continued with stating outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings. If gathering indoors, increase fresh air circulation by opening windows or doors, as much as possible, especially in rooms where people are gathering. A gathering of no more than three households is permitted in a public park or other outdoor space. Gatherings are defined as “social situations that bring together people from different households at the same time in a single space or place.” Gatherings should be two hours or less. DSS does not want people in gatherings to sing, chant, shout, cheer, engage in physical exertion, or any other activity that increases the release of respiratory droplets and fine aerosols into the air.
Licensees are encouraged to distribute the COVID-19 Safety Tips for Gatherings (a flier produced by DSS [attached]) to residents, facility staff, families, and friends, and post the flier in a public area near the facility entrance. When gathering away from the facility, licensees, facility staff, and residents should stay at home if sick, maintain at least six feet of physical distancing, wear face coverings, wash hands often, limit the number of people handling or serving food, limit contact with surfaces and shared items then disinfect those surfaces and items, and limit mixing different household attendees.
Facilities may hold communal activities and dining while adhering to C-19 infection prevention practices: residents may eat in the same room with physical distancing and consider additional limitations based on status of C-19 infections in the facility. Face coverings should be worn by residents going to and from the dining area and whenever not eating or drinking. Group activities may also be facilitated with physical distancing among residents, appropriate hand hygiene, and use of face coverings. Encourage as many of these activities to occur outdoors when feasible, but communal holiday activities and dining may not include visitors.