Health officials have relaxed federal COVID-19 guidance for nursing homes for the first time since September, recommending that even unvaccinated visitors and residents be allowed to meet in person under most circumstances.
"Facilities should allow indoor visitation at all times and for all residents (regardless of vaccination status), except for a few circumstances when visitation should be limited due to a high risk of COVID-19 transmission," the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, said in advice issued Wednesday.
The revised advice also said that "compassionate care visits should be permitted at all times."
In the latest guidance, however, the CMS recommends that indoor visit should be limited in cases where an unvaccinated resident is in a county where the coronavirus positivity rate exceeds 10% and fewer than 70% of the facility's residents are fully vaccinated.
Other exceptions are for residents confirmed to have COVID-19 — regardless of their vaccination status — and residents in quarantine.
While indoor visits are acceptable, outdoor visits pose less risk and are "preferred even when the resident and visitor are fully vaccinated," the guidelines said.
The revised recommendations are a further sign that the U.S. may be finally turning the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, a year after it began. Nearly 530,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. The number of new coronavirus infections among the general U.S. population has also been generally declining since January, although that positive trend appears to have leveled off at about 60,000 new cases a day.
In other guidance earlier this week, the CDC said individuals who are fully vaccinated can spend time indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks or social distancing.
The CDC also said fully vaccinated people can socialize with "unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing."
However, people who are fully vaccinated should still wear masks in public, the guidance stated.
Nearly 63 million Americans — or nearly 19% of the U.S. population — have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 10% have been fully vaccinated. About a third of Americans 65 years or older have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Meanwhile, President Biden on Wednesday ordered an additional 100 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in case of "unexpected challenges" in fighting the pandemic.
Biden said Americans would be given priority for the vaccines, but that any surplus would be shared with the world.
"We're not going to be ultimately safe, until the world is safe," he said.