As COVID-19 cases continue to spike, the state Health Department is instituting new regulations designed to protect the some of the most vulnerable people at long-term care facilities.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli on Tuesday said that 81 of the state’s 375 nursing homes have reported at least one COVID-19 positive case, so all long-term care facilities have been directed to implement universal masking of all staff and anyone entering the facility.

“We are taking this step to reduce the risk of illness being introduced into the facilities," she said.

“All symptomatic facility residents, those who are showing respiratory virus symptoms, should be masked while staff is providing direct care.”

Persichilli also said facilities must create separate wings, units or floors to accept asymptomatic residents returning from the hospital.

“This may mean moving residents in a facility to create a new wing or a new unit. They must limit the staff working between the wings or units as much as possible to avoid spread of the virus," she said.

Facilities must also create a separate wing or unit to accept residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

She said when a facility gets word of a positive case involving either a resident or staff member, the facility should follow the guidance provided by the local health agency to protect the health and well-being of its residents and staff.

Persichilli noted these directives are being issued following discussion with the Washington State Department of Health long-term care division about the outbreak of COVID-19 they experienced.

“Their statistics had shown that it was health care workers coming in that had contracted the disease but were asymptomatic and spread it into their long term care facilities," Persichilli said.

She also said N95 masks will not be required in long-term care facilities but could use surgical or cloth masks to protects residents from employees.

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