Update from NYS Department of Health: Expanded Visitation Guidelines for Nursing Homes

Submitted by: Bria Lewis, Esq., Staff Attorney

On February 22, 2021 NYS Department of Health (DOH) released an updated guidance for visitation in nursing homes. This guidance supersedes and replaces any previously issued guidance from DOH regarding visitation in nursing homes. These new guidelines begin on February 26, 2021. As of February 24, 2021 DOH has not issued an updated guidance for visitation in adult care facilities or pediatric skilled nursing facilities.

The 14 day COVID-19 free requirement remains the same from the previous visitation guidance. This means in order for a facility to conduct in-person visitation there must be no new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days and the facility must not currently be conducting outbreak testing. With more residents and staff vaccinated against COVID-19, this requirement should be easier for facilities to meet.

When a facility meets the COVID-19 free requirement, in-person visitation can occur. Visitation can be conducted in resident rooms, dedicated visitation spaces and outdoors weather permitting. The number of visitors to a facility at a time cannot exceed 20%. Additionally, there is a testing requirement for visitors depending on community positivity rate. The community positivity rate is split into three categories:

Low (below 5%): Visitation is permitted and visitor testing is strongly encouraged. Facilities are permitted to use rapid testing.

Medium (5%-10%): Visitation is permitted and visitor testing is required. Visitors must either present a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours, or facilities may use rapid testing to meet the testing requirement.

High (above 10%): Visitation may only occur for compassionate care situations. Testing is not required but facilities should offer rapid testing whenever possible.

The major update to the visitation guidelines is the expansion of compassionate care visitation. The guidelines for compassionate care visits follow the federal guidelines released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in September 2020. Compassionate care situation are now expanded to go beyond end of life and hospice situations, these situations include:

  • Newly admitted residents with difficulty adjusting to the facility environment and lack of in-person family support.
  • Residents recently grieving the loss of a friend or loved one.
  • Residents who previously received in-person support and/or cueing from family for eating and drinking and are now experiencing dehydration and/or weight loss.
  • Residents who are experiencing signs and symptoms of emotional distress.
  • Residents who receive religious or spiritual support from clergy or another lay person.

The situations listed above are not exhaustive and additional situations can be considered by the facility on a resident-specific basis. It is important to note that for compassionate care visits, testing is not required but encouraged and should be facilitated whenever possible.

The Center for Elder Law & Justice is available to help. If you are a resident or family member of a resident in a long-term care facility, and have questions or concerns about visitation or communications, please call our office for potential legal representation. Call us at (716) 853-3087.


  1. Sharan McKeegan on February 25, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    The NY policy does NOT address residents who have had COVID and the vaccine, and visitors who have had COVID and the vaccine – WHERE IS THE RISK in visitng at that point? Why are we getting a vaccine if it has no effect on visitation? Is the DOH blind to the fact that people are getting the vaccine?

    This policy of separating families has to change. The “new” visitation policy looks almost like the old visitation policy and yet it’s being heralded as such a great improvement. Hogwash.

    How many nursing home facilities are COVID free for 14 days? What are the numbers?

  2. Zoe Ann Kaminski on March 10, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    We agree entirely. This is still a great hardship, in spite of everyone being vaccinated! Please make significant changes NOW!

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