Some Pennsylvania Nursing Homes Will Still Require Masks, Despite Mandate Lifting

Pennsylvania's mask mandate lifted on Monday, but some nursing homes in the region will continue to require employees, visitors, and residents to wear face masks in their facilities. 
Pennsylvania’s mask mandate ended this week, but some long-term care facilities and nursing homes in the region say they’ll continue to require the use of face coverings to protect against COVID-19.Masks will still be required for employees at all UPMC facilities, a policy which extends to visitors and residents at nursing homes, according to David Nace, clinical chief of geriatric medicine for UPMC and chief of medical affairs for UPMC Senior Communities.
“These [facilities] will have a higher proportion of individuals with serious medical problems, particularly in suppressed conditions or medicines that may make them immunosuppressed,” Nace said. “So we do need to be much more cautious than the general population out there. For that reason, it does make sense to continue masking.”
Nace said residents and guests can remove their masks during visits if they stay apart from others and are vaccinated.
But while masks will be required, nursing homes are updating some policies as COVID-19 cases in the region fall. Like other facilities across the country, UPMC nursing homes curtailed communal dining and resident activities early in the pandemic. They also halted routine visitations from friends and family outside the facility and limited essential visits to just one or two people.
Now, UPMC long-term care facilities are allowing in-person visits again.
“There has been a relaxation in recent months since the implementation of the vaccine in December, January, and February,” Nace said. “We’ve been able to start to back down a little bit on some of the restrictions.”
The facilities have resumed communal dining, and vaccinated residents are allowed to sit together without wearing masks.
Other healthcare facilities will continue to enforce some pandemic safety restrictions as well.
Guardian Healthcare, which operates several nursing homes and long-term care facilities across Western Pennsylvania, said caregivers and visitors must wear masks while inside its facilities.
“The safety of our residents and our caregivers remains our top priority,” a spokesperson for Guardian Healthcare said in an email. “Guardian’s sites continue to follow all [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services], and [Department of Health] guidance for health care facilities.”
It will likely take some time for long-term care facilities to drop COVID-19 precautions completely, Nace said, noting that UPMC, like other health care providers in the region, must follow guidelines set by the state and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We still need to be much more cautious in health care settings, simply because if we don’t, that’s where the risk is,” he said. “We don’t need to shut everybody down, but we do need to be cautious around those that are vulnerable where this virus actually impacts on a predictable basis.”