PROVIDENCE — All visitors to long-term care facilities in Rhode Island must be fully vaccinated or provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test, the governor’s office announced Monday.
Regardless of vaccination status, all visitors to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities will be required to wear masks. Previously, mask mandates were tied to vaccination status.
The new regulations, which were implemented by the state health department, will go into effect immediately.
“With COVID-19 case rates elevated in Rhode Island and across the country, we need to take steps to safeguard the members of our community who are more vulnerable,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the state health department. “If you have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility, the best way to visit safely with that person is to get vaccinated. However, to ensure that residents can still see their loved ones, testing is also an option.”
Visitors who are not fully vaccinated will have to show either a negative rapid test result from within the previous 48 hours, or a negative PCR test result from within the previous 72 hours. Electronic or paper proof will be accepted, according to the governor’s office.
Last week, John Martin, an AARP Rhode Island spokesman, told the Globe that the organization had urged the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare to update their vaccination requirements for nursing home staff based on CDC guidance.
AARP supports requiring nursing home residents and staff to be fully vaccinated, despite the CDC not yet defining boosters as a requirement for health care workers, he said.
Advocates for residents said nursing homes nationwide should adopt the new Rhode Island regulations.
“We are asking Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra and CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure to uphold the legal rights of residents of long term care to have visitors. One of the best ways to protect residents is to ensure they are not cut off from families and informal caregivers, especially when there’s a state of crisis with staffing,” said Lori Smetanka, executive director for the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care in a statement sent to the Globe. “No group has suffered more loss, health decline and death during the pandemic than residents of long term care.”
The news comes as Rhode Island’s COVID-19 test positive rate exceeds 15 percent.