Decrease in COVID cases may open up nursing homes to visits


Photo by Bubba Harris

The flag outside Miami’s Yager Stadium, along with all other American flags, is at half-staff in honor of the 500,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19.

By Zach Goetsch and Sara Coy

The United States marked a total of 500,000 COVID related deaths this week with 17,000 in Ohio and 460 in Butler County, according to the Ohio Department of Health

Following the lead of the federal government, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered flags lowered to half-staff throughout the state to pay homage to the dead. The flags will remain in this position until sunset Feb. 26.

The average related age of those who died from COVID-19 in Butler County is 75, as seen on the county’s COVID Dashboard. At a press conferences this week, DeWine discussed the importance of vaccinations among patients and staff in nursing homes, to protect the elderly.

Chart of the updated COVID-19 numbers as of Feb. 24 .

On Tuesday, DeWine said restrictions on nursing home visitations will be up to the specific location’s discretion, as long as they meet the criteria of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. DeWine also said there may be exceptions to this criteria in the event of compassionate-care visits. 

“The number of new COVID 19 cases in our nursing homes continues to go down,” DeWine said Monday. “Last week long-term care facilities reported 343 new cases… it is a significant decrease from what it was in December when the high was 2,832 new cases.”

Ursel McElroy, Ohio’s Director of Aging, said the state is doing everything possible to allow families to see their loved ones as quickly as possible. 

Ursel McElroy, director of the Ohio Department of Aging. Photo provided by the Ohio Department of Aging

A state testing program has been implemented, that facilities can still join, where the nursing home testing supplies and lab work will be covered at no cost, McElroy said. Additionally, the Department of Aging launched a vaccine maintenance program, which is critical to continue its efforts to vaccinate nursing home and assisted living residents.

The Knolls of Oxford, 6727 Contreras Road, is taking DeWine’s news positively,  and plans to begin compassionate-care and end-of-life visits on March 1. 

Compassionate-care visits are designed to give residents who are dying or folks who are not feeling mentally well a boost by seeing family members. Each resident is to be allowed one visit per week for 20 minutes with two family members in a designated area.  

“It would be terrific for our residents who haven’t been able to get a hug or kiss on the cheek,” said Suzanne House, activity director at the Knolls of Oxford. 

“I can’t wait for things to open, it’s been too long,” said House. 

For now, Zoom and Skype calls are still available for regular visitations and out-of-town family members to see their loved ones. 

House said that The Knolls is awaiting further release of restrictions from both DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health before making any decisions on in-person visitations for all patients. 

At his press conference Thursday, Feb. 25, DeWine said he thinks the goal of offering future in-person visitations to nursing homes is in sight. The number of cases among Ohioans over the age of 80 and the number of individuals who have received vaccinations has grown, pointing to a future of less restrictions. 

Nursing home cases decline

Last December, 25% of COVID-19 hospitalizations were individuals 80 years and over, but that number has decreased significantly. This month, only 18% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are individuals 80 and over. 

“Nursing homes are making up a smaller percentage of hospitalizations, but the whole number of hospitalizations is down across all ages,” said DeWine.  

“We felt when we started vaccinating nursing homes and folks that are older, we would see a dramatic decrease in the number of people going into our hospitals,” said DeWine. 

In mid-December, there were nearly 5,100 nursing home residents who had the virus in a given week. Currently, that number has decreased significantly, to around 1,000 cases in Ohio, as February ends. DeWine said he wants to continue to see a decrease in these numbers.

As of the week of Feb. 14, nearly 91,000 of Ohio’s nursing home residents had received their first vaccination shot and nearly 70,000 have completed the vaccination process, having received their second shot. 

The state’s Vaccine Maintenance Program will go into effect March 1. The program aims to continue vaccinations for new residents or staff members at nursing homes, residents and staff members who have changed their minds about getting vaccinated, and for new hires as well. DeWine said the first round of shots under the maintenance plan are expected to start this coming week with the delivery of more doses of vaccine from federal sources. 

New rules for visitation at behavioral health hospitals also were announced this week. “Beginning March 1st, we will lift restrictions on visitors to our state’s behavioral health hospitals,” DeWine tweeted. “There will be certain safety measures in place to protect patients and staff, such as requirements, hand hygiene protocols and time limits.”  

As of now, the state remains vaccinating those in Phase 1B of its distribution plan. A list of COVID-19 vaccination providers can be found at  

DeWine said, during his press conference Thursday, for Ohioans to help anyone over 65 years of age in your family or your neighborhood, with signing up for a vaccination. 

“Help them use the internet if they don’t know how, or if they need a ride, help them get one,” said DeWine. 

State goal of reopening all schools is March 1

March 1 marks another important goal for DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health. All but one school in Ohio will have had teachers vaccinated with at least the first dose by Sunday, Feb. 28.  

As of Wednesday, Feb. 24, only 10 public school districts are engaged in fully remote learning, said DeWine. 

“Our goal of (returning to full, in-person instruction) by March 1 is not going to be fully completed, but we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress,” said DeWine. “It is important for these students to be back in school.” 

DeWine expects 310,000 new doses to arrive in Ohio this coming week. The vaccine availability is also being expanded to Meijer and Walmart locations as well as some independent pharmacies.