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State halts visits to long-term care facilities

SALEM — State officials on Tuesday mandated a stop to visits to the 30,000 Oregonians in long-term care facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that has proven especially deadly for the elderly.

That means, for now, no more time with parents, grandparents and others in licensed facilities except in special circumstances.

“Our No. 1 priority is to stop the spread of this virus,” said Fariborz Pakseresht, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Pakseresht and Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, announced the new restrictions Tuesday evening that affect 670 nursing homes, assisted care facilities and residential care facilities.

“Oregonians in our nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to this disease,” Allen said.

They said those who operate 1,700 adult foster care homes and anyone caring for an elderly Oregonian at home should also follow the state’s guidance.

Under the new restrictions, visits to the care facilities will be limited to what the state called “essential individuals,” according to the state.

That includes facility staff and vendors, state ombudsman and staff, family and friends attending to an end-of-life circumstance and those “essential” to the “emotional well-being and care” of residents.

Care facilities in Jackson County rolled out restrictions for visitors based on the guidelines set by local state and national health officials.

“Non-essential visitors,” including those who haven’t recorded a case COVID-19 case, are being restricted at Rogue Valley Manor and Fountain Plaza, according to public posts on the facilities’ public Facebook pages.

Fountain Plaza is further discouraging residents in the facility from attending outside group events and gatherings out of an “abundance of caution” to prevent the virus from entering the facility.

The Manor is using campus-wide surveillance to watch for high-risk individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms, and all Rogue Valley Manor staff members are subject to careful screenings. Any staff member showing signs of symptoms won’t be allowed to work, nor will any staff member who has traveled to a high-risk country in the past 30 days.

No cases of COVID-19 infection have been reported at the Rogue Valley Manor as of Wednesday afternoon, but are “precautionary steps” to mitigate risks to residents and staff.

The extraordinary step comes as data from around the world show that the elderly are most vulnerable to the virus.

State health authorities also directed the facility operators to limit community outings and work to arrange “virtual visits” for their residents.

Pakseresht said it would be up to individual facilities to determine who was “essential” to visit.

“It’s not something we can define centrally,” he said.

He also said that it would be up to facilities to decide how to tell residents about the new restrictions, which will be in place indefinitely.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said none of the state’s presumed cases of infected Oregonians includes anyone from a long-term care facility. He said, however, that residents of such facilities have been among those tested, although he didn’t provide any details.

Tests to determine whether someone is infected are conducted through medical swabs sent to the state’s central health laboratory.

Pakseresht said Oregon officials are taking every step they can to avoid “the tragic situation developing in Washington,” where deaths have mounted among those in a Kirkland, Washington, long-term care facility.

State officials said they urged those caring for elderly relatives or friends follow similar guidance.

They also recommend that the elderly should stay home as much as possible and when in public avoid people who are sick or close contact with others. The elderly should stock up on food, medications and other supplies to minimize their risk of infection from going out.

Allen said Oregonians need to take the situation “incredibly seriously” by abiding the state’s restrictions and guidance.

“We’re asking people to do some really hard stuff,” Allen said.

Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan contributed to this report.

A Montana resident visiting Anne Arundel County, Maryland has tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).