FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 19, 2021
Heather Thomas, 425.508.4980
COVID Vaccines and Visiting with Elders
Health District shares guidance on visitation, reduces testing operations
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – Ten weeks into COVID vaccine efforts, more than 76,000 people have received their first dose in Snohomish County since December 17. Nearly 20,000 people are now fully vaccinated; a number that will double in the coming days.
With more residents receiving both doses—and case rates, hospitalizations and outbreaks in long-term care facilities on the decline—the Snohomish Health District has started receiving questions on when it’s safe to resume visitations with elders.
For those living in long-term care facilities, adult family homes and the like, the facilities must follow the Safe Start for Long-Term Care plan. Established by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), the plan sets visitation and other activity parameters based on community transmission levels.
Given that Snohomish County has a two-week case rate exceeding 75 cases per 100,000 residents, all facilities must follow Phase 1 guidance. Note that this DSHS plan is separate from phases laid out in the Roadmap to Recovery. This allows for:
- Outdoor visitation of up to two persons per resident per day, with masking, social distancing, and standard infection prevention and control measures in place.
- Essential support persons, those designated to visit and advocate for the resident, can visit indoors in a designated visitation space. This space must be separate from the resident’s room and in an area removed from patient care spaces. They have to mask, be screened, and adhere to facility policies on visitation.
- Compassionate care circumstances are permitted in end-of-life circumstances, defined by a "sharp decline in health status," as well as psychosocial situations when the patient exhibits signs of emotional distress.
Aside from external visitors, facilities can resume group activities when they:
- Have not had COVID cases within the last 28 days,
- Are using conventional capacity and staffing practices,
- Create “pods” of residents that attend activities or dining together consistently,
- Implement physical distancing measures, and
- Provide sufficient disinfection of high-touch surfaces and shared spaces.
When Snohomish County falls below 75 cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week period, facilities will be able to allow a limited number of “nonessential personnel” like entertainment or religious services, as appropriate. This is all with screening, masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing.
Those are the guidelines for people going into a facility. As far as a resident leaving for community activities or visits, non-medically necessary trips outside the building should be avoided. Although residents are asked to limit nonessential trips as much as they are able, resident rights laws do allow a resident to participate in community activities.
When taking trips into the community, both residents and those accompanying them should:
- Wear a face covering or face mask at all times, if possible.
- Clean hands frequently, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available.
- Instruct family members and friends to pick them up at the front door and not go inside the facility.
- Maintain a distance of 6 feet from others as much as possible while in the community.
- Be aware of potential risks of taking trips into the community, including a potentially increased risk of COVID-19 for friends or family member as well as a potential risk of introducing COVID-19 into the facility/home.
- With permission, keep a log of activities to allow for contact tracing if cases are identified.
The facilities should provide the resident with any items needed to follow infection prevention recommendations (e.g., hand sanitizer, face covering or mask). They must educate clients, residents, and friends and family of appropriate precautions. Upon return from the outing, the resident will have daily symptom screening and possibly a 14-day quarantine, depending on a risk assessment and re-opening phase. If possible, facilities may cohort residents who make frequent community trips.
“While there are currently no additional allowances based off vaccination status for long-term facilities, vaccines do play a vital role in moving us forward,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer for the Health District. “As more residents and staff in these facilities get vaccinated, the number of cases, outbreaks and hospitalizations will decrease. Coupled with continued efforts in every community to mask up and maintain physical distancing when around people we don’t live with, we’ll continue driving down our case rates to levels where we can allow for more interactions and visitations.”
So, what about visiting people that aren’t living in a congregate living setting? People should still proceed with caution, particularly if not everyone is fully vaccinated. It’s also important to remember that vaccines are still not available for those under the age of 16.
“We know people are anxious to see their loved ones and give them hugs, but we’re not quite out of the woods yet,” notes Dr. Spitters. “We need vaccine supply to pick up so more people in the community are able to get their vaccines. Getting more shots in arms will allow us to get closer to that 70-80 percent coverage needed to prevent continued spread of the virus.”
Until then, keep the bubbles small. When gathering, outdoors is best, as are short visits. People need to keep masks on the entire time, and while hard to do, keep the hugs quick and without kisses. Also make sure to keep the physical distance as much as possible, and wash hands and sanitize surfaces frequently.
Health District to Reduce Testing Sites
Based on decreasing numbers, the Health District will be closing the Everett Community College testing site. Its last date of operations at 915 N. Broadway was Friday, February 19.
This move allows staff to be reallocated to support vaccine site operations. The Health District will monitor testing volumes and positivity rates in the coming weeks to determine if further test site consolidation is feasible.
A testing tent at the Lynnwood Food Bank site that was damaged by winter weather is being repaired. That site will resume operations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, February 22. The site will also be open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The schedule for the other three community-based testing sites is as follows:
- 3900 Broadway site in Everett – remains open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Evergreen State Fairgrounds in the front parking lot off of 179th Ave SE in Monroe – open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Sultan Elementary School site at 501 Date St – this location is a walk-up test site, and is open Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Testing is by appointment only and registration is now open at www.snohd.org/testing. Those without internet access or needing language assistance can reach the Health District’s call center at 425.339.5278. The call center is staffed 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Callers after hours or on weekends can leave a message, which will be returned on the next business day.