Vaccines haven't cured loneliness in New York nursing homes

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Laura Coriddi shows a photo on her phone through a window to her mother Emma Sahl at Northgate Healthcare facility Saturday, March. 6, 2021, in North Tonawanda N.Y. High rates of COVID-19 throughout New York have left the majority of its nursing homes closed for most indoor visits despite relaxed guidance meant to help open them up for visitors. New York updated its visitation rules Thursday, March 25 in a way that will now allow visits to resume under certain conditions, even if a resident has recently tested positive. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

HERKIMER, N.Y. – Vaccines have begun saving lives in New York's nursing homes, but they haven't yet cured another crisis caused by the pandemic: loneliness.

Persistently high rates of COVID-19 have left the majority of the state's nursing homes off limits to visitors, despite relaxed guidance meant to help reopen them.

Until this week, under state and federal rules, they could admit visitors only if they had no new infections among either patients or staff for 14 days.

That mark proved too hard for most to reach. A little more than half of the state’s 616 nursing homes were ineligible for indoor visits in mid-March, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare. That’s the highest percentage of any state.

New York updated its visitation rules Thursday in a way that will now allow visits to resume under certain conditions, even if a resident or staffer has recently tested positive. But that relaxed standard might not clear the way for visitation in many homes having trouble keeping the virus out.

The lack of visits has frustrated people like Debbie Barbano, who has been able to see her 69-year-old mother at a central New York nursing home only through a window.

“When this hit last year, it was like a bullet to your chest,” Barbano said. “She didn’t understand why I wasn’t coming. It was like I was abandoning her.”

Under New York’s new guidelines, homes would still have to halt visits after any resident or staffer tested positive, but they could potentially resume for some patients if a thorough round of further testing revealed the outbreak was confined to just one part of the facility.