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Texas nursing home residents can leave for the holidays, which has some people worried

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission still advises facilities to strongly discourage residents from leaving, unless it’s for an essential medical visit.

AUSTIN, Texas — People with family members in long-term elder care facilities have a big choice to make for the holidays this year.

With COVID-19 cases and deaths spiking in Texas and across the country, families have to decide whether they can and should see their loved ones who live in nursing homes.

"I have grave concerns about what's happening with nursing homes in these holidays, you know, Thanksgiving and Christmas," Families for Better Care Executive Director Brian Lee said.

Lee said he is worried because Texans may want to spend the holidays with family members, but the virus is spreading quickly again.

“We could be looking at the worst, the worst wave of this pandemic in nursing homes,” Lee said. “And it's really been atrocious thus far. “

The KVUE Defenders obtained data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that shows just how “atrocious” it’s been – 54,851 nursing home employees and residents have tested positive for the virus as of Nov. 10, and 4,848 of those residents died.

Credit: KVUE
More than 54,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 inside Texas nursing homes as of Nov. 10, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The data shows the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among residents has been climbing for months, and it’s still rising.

But this guidance from HHSC says nursing homes have to let residents leave to celebrate the holidays and return, if they want to.

The State’s long-term care ombudsman, Patty Ducayet, thinks that’s the right decision.

“If done safely, if people follow the instructions that they're given, we can be careful enough,” Ducayet said. “And I do think we can protect our long-term care residents.”

If a resident leaves and comes back, facilities have to screen that person for COVID-19, and they could have to quarantine for 14 days. That’s a requirement if they spent one or more nights away from the facility, had exposure to someone with COVID-19, or had exposure to someone with COVID-19 symptoms waiting for test results.

Credit: KVUE
Nursing home residents who choose to leave their facilities must quarantine if they meet any of these three criteria.

But Ducayet told KVUE if it’s possible, the safest option for families is to have a virtual celebration.

“To be separated physically would mean using Zoom or some other kind of meeting way to virtually connect over the Thanksgiving meal or for a period of the day on Thanksgiving,” Ducayet said.

A spokesperson for HHSC told KVUE even though residents are within their rights to leave their nursing home, the agency is still advising facilities to strongly discourage residents from leaving. That’s unless that person is leaving for an essential medical appointment.

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