State restricts visitors to Alaska nursing homes

Alaska State Seal

The state Department of Health and Social Services is placing new restrictions on visitors to long-term care facilities and nursing homes, to shield residents from exposure to the coronavirus.

“Our elders in nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to this disease and our actions are intended to protect vulnerable adults,” Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said in an email on Friday.

Only family members and medical providers will be allowed to visit. All visitors will be screened for illness, and their movement within the facility restricted.

The policy also says facilities should establish a process to evaluate large numbers of patients and workers with respiratory symptoms. And it advises homes they should figure out how they will operate if many of their regular employees are absent.

The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association has endorsed the new policy.

The Pioneer Homes also announced policy changes today. They will have limited visiting hours and conduct health screenings on all visitors. The Pioneer Homes provide assisted living, a level less intensive than most nursing homes.

Medical experts say people over 60 are more likely to get severe symptoms of a COVID-19 infection, and that risk increases with age.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage.

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