Vaccinated Texas nursing home residents can now hug their families and receive more visitors after a year of isolation

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After a year of isolation from loved ones and lack of physical contact with their families in some cases, Texas nursing home residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are now allowed unlimited hugs and visits from their loved ones as long as the facility permits it, under new rules announced Tuesday by state health officials.

The rule change is effective immediately.

“Nothing can replace a hug and a smile from a loved one, and we anticipate many happy reunions,” said Becky Anderson, chief clinical officer for Focused Post Acute Care Partners, which runs 31 facilities in Texas.

The new rule also applies to residents of assisted living centers and other long-term care facilities.

There are about 1,200 nursing homes in Texas with about 90,000 residents, according to population estimates and state numbers. There are about 2,000 assisted living facilities in Texas, officials said. Nearly 9,000 nursing home residents have died of COVID-related causes, accounting for some 20% of all Texas coronavirus deaths, according to state data.

“Safely visiting with family and friends is vital to the mental health and well-being of long-term care residents,” Victoria Ford, chief policy and regulatory officer for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said in a statement. “We are so pleased these new rules will allow residents to enjoy in-person visits with a wider circle of loved ones.”

For the last few months, nursing homes that had COVID-19 cases identified in the building outside of areas for sick residents could only allow designated essential caregivers to visit for limited times after training and screening. Birthday parties and holiday celebrations took place largely through windows and over video calls.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott shut down visitation in mid-March in an attempt to keep the coronavirus out of the facilities and away from those most likely to die from the virus. In early August, the state eased restrictions for nursing facilities that don’t have any active COVID-19 cases among residents or confirmed cases among staff in the previous two weeks in the areas of the building where COVID-19 negative residents live.