Ohio nursing home cases plummet, rules ease: ‘Vaccination is definitely working’

Ohioans living in nursing homes, assisted living communities and other long-term care homes are socializing more, getting back to more typical activities and increasingly enjoying the fruits of the vaccination program.

“We’re getting ready to start our golf league. We’re getting ready to start our bocce ball league, our pickleball and shuffleboard leagues ... we’re really getting back to doing that engagement with our residents, and everyone’s really excited about it,” said Jason Miller, VP of operations at Otterbein SeniorLife.

Ohio’s nursing home vaccination program first started in December. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have dropped dramatically since.

When the state’s weekly dashboard last updated May 5, there were 200 active resident COVID-19 cases reported across the state during the week prior and 309 active staff cases. At the peak report in December, there were 2,832 new resident cases.

“Otterbein has only had six residents that have tested positive over the last three months. That’s great news,” said Gary Horning, VP of marketing and communications at Otterbein SeniorLife. “What’s even more important than all six of them had very, very mild cases or no symptoms at all -- as compared to those prior that have had fairly significant symptoms, those that weren’t vaccinated. So the vaccination is definitely working.”

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As the pandemic intensity wanes, recent rules at the federal, state and facility level have been loosening infection control measures, particularly for people with COVID-19 vaccinations.

While there’s been more freedom for many residents, there’s also been more freedom for many staff.

Staff who are fully vaccinated generally don’t have to be tested twice a week. Vaccinated staff can gather in groups with their masks off. Residents who are fully vaccinated can typically hang out in their rooms with family, where they can hug and don’t have to social distance.

However, some facilities have different rules beyond the state requirements. Also, during an outbreak, some measures resume. But in general, the industry has been increasingly getting closer to where things were pre-pandemic.

Previously, Ohio nursing homes had been required to test staff at least twice a week and vaccinated staff were allowed to be tested only once a week.

With Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement of the new guidelines on May 3, Pete Van Runkle said the new rule that vaccinated staff don’t need regular testing reduces a burden on facilities and also creates a powerful incentive to get vaccinated.

“This is big. I mean, the difference between being exempted and not having to do it twice a week is huge,” Van Runkle said.

He added that the CDC also put out guidance that if people have been fully vaccinated they can gather together, not wear masks and not have to socially distance, like the break room or a meeting room.

ExploreVaccinated Ohio nursing home staff exempt from testing

The safer outlook and loosening rules led to a very different Mother’s Day this Sunday than the year prior, when people had window visits or skype calls.

“It is an amazing juxta juxtaposition of, you know where we were a year ago to now,” said Lauren Coyle, administrator of Bethany Village in Centerville.

She said this year they were able to allow families to come into the residents’ rooms and visit with them for longer periods of time.

Coyle said she’s hopeful that in the not too distant future that residents will be able to be back dining together.

The state as a whole has seen an improving pandemic outlook.

For the second day in a row, Ohio reported its fewest number of daily coronavirus cases in 21 days.

ExploreOhio reports fewest number of daily cases in 3 weeks for second-straight day

The state reported 713 cases on Monday, compared to 794 on Sunday, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The last time Ohio recorded fewer than 1,000 daily cases on back-to-back days was last Sunday (985 cases) and Monday (995 cases).

Hospitalizations on Monday also were well below the state’s average.

As of Monday, Ohio had 1,002 COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the state, according to ODH. It’s the lowest number reported in two weeks and sixth consecutive day the number of hospitalized COVID patients decreased in Ohio.

More than 4.9 million Ohioans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of Monday, which is over half of those 16 and older.

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