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Coronavirus prompts Mass. to restrict nursing home visits

Massachusetts is restricting who can visit nursing and rest homes in the state in an attempt to protect older people who are at higher risk for coronavirus, authorities said Wednesday evening.

State officials are banning visitors who show signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Visitors will also be barred from entering such homes if during the last 14 days they had contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19, are under investigation for Covid-19 or has been sick.

Visitors who have traveled internationally during the last two weeks or are living in a city or town where “community-based spread” of Covid-19 is occurring are also prohibited from going to nursing and rest homes, authorities said.

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The state’s public health commissioner on Wednesday issued an order requiring nursing and rest homes to “actively screen all visitors and to to take measures to restrict visitors under certain circumstances," according to authorities.

Marylou Sudders, the state’s health and human services secretary, said Massachusetts has an aging population, with 20 percent of residents over 60.

“We needed to act to protect our older residents, especially those in long term care facilities,” she said in a statement.

The move came a day after Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency as the number of Covid-19 cases grew and the first cases with no known source broke out in Berkshire County.

As of Wednesday evening, Massachusetts coronavirus cases totaled 95, with 445 people in self-quarantine. The 95 cases included 77 people who were infected in connection with a Biogen company meeting in late February.

“Everyone has a role to play to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts, and it’s particularly important that we take precautions to keep older adults and those with health conditions safe,” said Baker in a statement.

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He continued, “This new guidance for long-term care facilities is critical to protecting older adults from Covid-19 and we appreciate the public’s willingness to observe these important rules for the foreseeable future.”

Baker’s administration is also "urging older adults and those with health issues to avoid large crowds and events.”

People who live in households with vulnerable people, including elderly parents, should also consider avoiding crowds, authorities said.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.