Edie Starr, of South Windsor, right, talks to her brother Burt Deane through the window at Manchester Manor Health Care Center. When Deane was fighting with coronavirus a few months ago, Starr and her older brother Phil Deane would communicate with Deane through thumbs up and thumbs down through the closed window. Burt recovered from the coronavirus. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Sofia Agranovich has lunch at Beechwood Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in March 2021.

Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday issued a new emergency order requiring visitors to nursing homes to be vaccinated or have proof of a recent negative COVID test before they can enter a facility.

“We know that some of the people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 include those who live in nursing homes, which is why we need to be doing everything we can to protect them from this virus,” Lamont said. “This is one more precaution we can implement at these facilities to keep them safe.”

The state is offering providers rapid antigen tests to use on visitors before they can enter. The state is distributing 50,000 rapid test kits to providers this week. Providers also get rapid antigen tests delivered by the federal government.

Under the new emergency order, visitors must comply with any one of the following:

  • Provide proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and, if eligible, under FDA or CDC guidance, have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster;
  • Provide paper or electronic proof of a negative COVID-19 test result from either a rapid antigen test that was completed within the previous 48 hours or a PCR test that was completed within the previous 72 hours; or
  • Take a rapid antigen test at the nursing home.

The order requires nursing homes to deny entrance to any visitor that tests positive for COVID-19 or who refuses to take a rapid antigen test.

The order further provides, according to guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, that a nursing home cannot deny entrance to any visitor who is willing to take a rapid antigen test but is unable to do so because the nursing home is not able to provide a rapid antigen test.

The new mandate will take effect Saturday.

“With the highly contagious omicron variant now ravaging our state and present in almost all nursing homes and congregate settings, we must do everything we can to mitigate the risks to our residents,” said Matthew Barrett, President and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities/Connecticut Center for Assisted Living.

“We know from contract tracing evidence that nursing home visitors are, regrettably and sometimes unwittingly, the source of much of the spread, therefore these measures may reduce added exposure,” Barrett said. “The severe staffing crisis nursing homes face will present significant challenges in the implementation of the new order, but our Connecticut nursing homes will move quickly to implement these new tools that will further assist in the protection for both nursing home residents and the staff who care for them.”

The order comes as cases in nursing homes continue to climb, with nearly every home in the state now having at least one positive case, and deaths climbing to levels not seen in a year.

The state releases new nursing home data every other Thursday. The latest numbers are due out this Thursday, but sources have told the Connecticut Mirror that as of Jan. 11, there were 854 positive cases among residents of nursing homes, an increase of 175 cases from the previous week.

As of Jan. 11, 204 nursing homes out of 210 licensed by the state had positive cases.

Deaths of residents have also increased, with 24 deaths over the week of Jan. 4-11, the most in a week since January 2021 when the state was in the process of vaccinating nursing home residents.

The deaths totals in nursing homes now are still significantly lower than they were in the spring of 2020 when no one was vaccinated.

On Jan. 6, state Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manihsa Juthani issued guidance that asked nursing homes to accept COVID-positive people from hospitals to help alleviate the strain in those facilities.

State officials stressed it wasn’t a mandate, but the guidance says hospitals should alert DPH if a nursing home facility will not take a COVID-positive person.

Providers say nursing homes have figured out how to isolate COVID-positive residents and treat them far better than they did back in the early stages of the pandemic. They also have much more personal protective equipment and other tools to help them.

The number of cases among staff dropped from 1,535 to 1,135 for the week ending Jan. 11.

Lamont recently issued an emergency order mandating that all nursing home staff get vaccine boosters by early February.

The number of nursing home staff getting boosters had stalled at about 30% for weeks. It increased to about 35% as of Jan. 11. For residents, about 84% are now vaccinated and boosted.

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.