The slow and cautious reopening begins at some nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the commonwealth; KDKA's Meghan Schiller reports.
- I said to my manager, I said, we cannot stop taking temperatures of people coming in. We've got to keep a log, and we got to keep doing everything we're doing.
KYM GABLE: New at 6:30, the slow and cautious reopening begins. After a year of lockdowns and no visitors, some nursing homes and long-term care facilities can open their doors once again.
STACY SMITH: Meghan Schiller explains the new measures and what they mean for you and your loved one.
MEGHAN SCHILLER: They're the communities arguably hit the hardest by the COVID pandemic, and the owners tell me it has been a terrible, trying year. But with the vaccine comes new hope and new guidelines for reopening.
- We test them when they come in with the temperature and everything we're supposed to do.
MEGHAN SCHILLER: It's a story not many can tell.
- We just feel like it's a mixture of what we've done, plus some luck.
MEGHAN SCHILLER: John [INAUDIBLE] runs a Butler personal care home with 25 beds and somehow locked COVID completely out. For others, the year brought unbelievable loss. 988 people died in Allegheny County nursing homes alone, more than any other county in the Commonwealth.
ZACH SCHAMBERG: We're not out of the woods yet. We're not through this pandemic yet. That's going to take some time. But I think we're moving in the right direction.
MEGHAN SCHILLER: Look at the latest statewide case counts inside these facilities plummeting to record lows. Zach Schamberg and the PA Health Care Association surveyed its providers, learning 50% to 60% of staff accepted the vaccine.
ZACH SCHAMBERG: In terms of residents, it's much higher. It's anywhere from 85% to 95%. Those are both higher averages than the national averages, which is good news for Pennsylvania.
MEGHAN SCHILLER: Facilities can now allow in-person visits with one exception-- if they're located in a county with a positivity rate greater than 10%, and less than 70% are fully vaccinated inside. Schamberg also points out this future concern.
ZACH SCHAMBERG: How do new staff get vaccinated? How do new residents get vaccinated? If staff and residents change their minds and want to get vaccinated, how do we do that? There is no plan in place in Pennsylvania.
MEGHAN SCHILLER: Even for [INAUDIBLE], one of the lucky ones, it's the issue on the top of his mind.
- I may have a new resident to come in who doesn't have his shots. Yeah, I mean, I may hire somebody new on the staff who [INAUDIBLE]. So you just want to keep everything rolling positively and not let your guard down at all.
MEGHAN SCHILLER: Schamberg says the facilities are now offering incentives, anything like a couple extra days off to cash incentives of $250, for staff members to change their minds and accept the vaccine. For a full list of the updated visitation guidelines, head over to kdka.com. Reporting downtown, Meghan Schiller, KDKA News.