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October 8, 2020

Mass. updates nursing home COVID guidelines

Photo | SHNS Marylou Sudders, the Massachusetts secretary of health and human services

Massachusetts state officials have updated guidelines for testing and flu vaccine requirements at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

As part of the new requirements announced Tuesday, all staff at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and similar care centers must receive a flu vaccination this season. The vaccine was previously optional, though the state Department of Public Health will make exceptions for medical or religious reasons.

The state has also eliminated three- and four-person rooms in nursing homes as part of a reform package announced in September. That package included $140 million in additional funding to nursing homes and $82 million in Medicaid payment restructuring aimed at incentivizing care for high-need groups during the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff testing for coronavirus is also being made more strict.

If staff testing shows at least one worker has coronavirus, the facility must conduct weekly testing of all staff until there are no positive tests for 14 days. All close contacts of the person who tested positive must also be tested, as well as all residents on any unit, floor or care area where that person worked.

Even if staff testing results in no positive cases, such facilities must conduct testing every two weeks on half of its staff, up from 30%. But if the county where the facility is located has a test positivity rate above 5% — Worcester County is far below that, at 0.75%, and the statewide rate is slightly higher — it must test each staff member, instead of half.

The new testing requirements go into effect Oct. 15.

Across Massachusetts, two-thirds of coronavirus deaths have taken place in long-term care facilities, according to the Department of Public Health. More than 25,000 residents or workers at such facilities have tested positive for the virus, or about 19% of the state's total.

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