Indoor visits to nursing homes can resume, but not in most of the Upper Peninsula
LANSING — Despite Michigan officials announcing indoor visits can resume at nursing homes and other residential care facilities across the state Wednesday, the majority of the Upper Peninsula will have to wait because COVID-19 cases are too numerous for the visits to resume.
For now, visits will not be allowed in 32 of Michigan’s 83 counties — those with an “E” risk level, where the daily number of new COVID-19 cases per million is more than 150 or the number of tests turning up positive is more than 20%.
Fourteen of the U.P.’s 15 counties are classified as the “E” risk level, including Delta, Schoolcraft and Menominee counties. Chippewa County is classified as Risk Level “C,” two levels lower than the rest of the peninsula. Many people visiting facilities in counties with a “C” or “D” risk level — 47 counties currently — will first have to be tested before they can make indoor visits. Most nursing homes now are able to do rapid tests, the state said.
Facilities in the 51 counties allowing indoor visits will be able to have visitors inside if they have had no new cases in the prior 14 days and the local health department has not barred visits. Visits will be by appointment only, and visitors must wear a mask.
The emergency order, issued by the state Department of Health and Human Services the same day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned COVID-19 is surging, takes effect Monday. Indoor visitation has been prohibited since March due to the pandemic, except for an end-of-life situation, grave illness or to support activities of daily living.
“As we grapple with both colder weather and rising cases, our task is to increase access to visitation in ways that do not increase the spread of the virus,” said Robert Gordon, the department’s director. “Visitation is a substantial source of risk. This order provides a plan for visitation that mitigates risk and continues necessary protections in facilities across the state.”
Indoor visitation was among the recommendations from a nursing home task force the Democratic governor created to inform Michigan’s preparedness for a second wave of virus cases.
“This is an important quality-of-life issue for our residents as safely reintroducing in-person visits with their loved ones is essential to their mental and physical well-being,” said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan, a nursing home group.
Republican lawmakers who have pushed the Whitmer administration for changes called the order a positive step.
“We can and must keep the health and mental wellness of our seniors on the forefront, and this latest order strikes a good balance between improving the quality of life for our nursing home residents while still protecting them from COVID-19,” said Rep. Julie Calley of Portland.