Federal officials announce new coronavirus rules for nursing homes to boost transparency

The federal agency that oversees nursing homes announced new transparency measures Sunday requiring the disclosure of coronavirus cases to patients' families and public health officials.

Speaking at a White House briefing, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called the new policies "important" and said they will support a nationwide effort to track the virus and slow its spread.

"As we reopen the United States, our surveillance effort around the virus will begin in nursing homes," Verma said.

It wasn't clear when the new reporting system would take effect. In a memo Sunday, the agency said it would be put into place "very soon."

One of the new policies instructs nursing homes to report cases directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so the federal government can start collecting data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes.

A second measure tells the homes to "inform residents, their families and representatives of COVID-19 cases in their facilities," the agency said.

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The two policy changes come in the wake of reporting by NBC News that families with loved ones in nursing homes complain that they are "in the dark" about COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities. The homes have also faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers and public health experts who have said the federal government should have been tracking COVID-19 cases from the beginning of the outbreak.