Fariborz Pakseresht, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services. (Courtesy of Oregon DHS)
SALEM – State officials on Tuesday mandated a stop to visits to the 30,000 Oregonians in long-term care facilities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that has proven especially deadly for the elderly.
That means, for now, no more time with parents, grandparents and others in licensed facilities except in special circumstances.
“Our number one priority is to stop the spread of this virus,” said Fariborz Pakseresht, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Pakseresht and Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, announced the new restrictions Tuesday evening that affect 670 nursing homes, assisted care facilities and residential care facilities.
“Oregonians in our nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to this disease,” Allen said.
They said those who operate 1,700 adult foster care homes and anyone caring for an elderly Oregonian at home should also follow the state’s guidance.
Under the new restrictions, visits to the care facilities will be limited to what the state called “essential individuals.”
That includes facility staff and vendors, state ombudsman and staff, family and friends attending to an end-of-life circumstance and those “essential” to the “emotional well-being and care” of residents.
The extraordinary step comes as data from around the world shows that the elderly are most vulnerable to the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
State health authorities also directed the facility operators to limit community outings and work to arrange “virtual visits” for their residents.
Pakseresht said it would be up to individual facilities to determine who was “essential” to visit.
“It’s not something we can define centrally,” he said.
He also said that it would be up to facilities to decide how to tell residents about the new restrictions, which will be in place indefinitely.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said none of the state’s presumed cases of infected Oregonians includes anyone from a long-term care facility. He said, however, that residents of such facilities have been among those tested, although he didn’t provide any details.
Tests to determine whether someone is infected are conducted through medical swabs sent to the state’s central health laboratory.
Pakseresht said Oregon officials are taking every step they can to avoid “the tragic situation developing in Washington,” where deaths have mounted among those in a Kirkland, Washington, long-term care facility.
State officials said they urged those caring for elderly relatives or friends follow similar guidance.
They also recommend that the elderly should stay home as much as possible and when in public avoid people who are sick or close contact with others. The elderly should stock up on food, medications and other supplies to minimize their risk of infection from going out.
Allen said Oregonians need to take the situation “incredibly seriously” by abiding the state’s restrictions and guidance.
“We’re asking people to do some really hard stuff,” Allen said.