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 the coronavirus 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, the director of the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Pakseresht and Pat Allen, the 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.”
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.
The extraordinary step comes as data from around the world shows that the elderly are most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
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, the 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 to 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.
Oregon will soon be receiving roughly $7.3 million in federal funds provided as part of an emergency package approved by Congress last week that will help the state in its response to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Last week, Gov. Kate Brown wrote to Vice President Mike Pence outlining the state’s need for up to $10 million a month for various measures such as contact tracing, staffing, bolstering testing capacity at the state’s public health lab, building a stock of personal protective gear for hospital workers and reimbursing various state agencies like the education and corrections departments.
According to Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, the governor was told on a call this week with Pence and senior health officials that the funding Oregon has been awarded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be available to the state within 30 days.
“For ongoing operations, the Oregon Health Authority is telling us they have the resources they need currently to continue responding to the coronavirus,” Boyle said. “We are staying in touch with the federal government and Oregon’s congressional delegation about what resources might be needed in the future.”
The state Emergency Board on Monday appropriated $5 million from state reserves for the state’s response to COVID-19, although there’s no breakdown of how the money will be spent.