Post State of Emergency COVID-19 Guidance

Post State of Emergency COVID-19 Guidance for OPWDD Certified, Operated, and/or Funded Facilities and Programs

Background: On May 19, 2021, consistent with the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York State (NYS) aligned the mandates for mask wearing and social distancing to eliminate requirements for most vaccinated individuals.

On June 25, 2021, the State of Emergency declared by Governor Andrew Cuomo, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, was allowed to expire. All associated Executive Orders and most COVID-19 restrictions will also be lifted throughout the State.

Post-Emergency Guidance:
Providers of OPWDD certified, operated, and/or funded programs should resume all pre-pandemic activities in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations, which still may include any applicable COVID-19 rules, regulations, or guidance issued by OPWDD. Effective June 25, 2021, providers may operate programs at full capacity to extent possible, to resume unrestricted visitation at and community outings from residential facilities, and to remove capacity limitations during transportation if all individuals are vaccinated.

Providers who had been acting under Executive Order provisions related to background checks should immediately begin implementing pre-COVID background checks, consistent with Expiration of Interim Guidance Regarding the Criminal Background Check Process, issued June 24, 2021. Providers who have been utilizing abbreviated trainings, pursuant to Executive order flexibilities, should immediately resume all mandatory trainings requirements, consistent with OPWDD Updated Guidance Regarding Abbreviated/Refresher Training and Recertifications, updated on June 24, 2021. 

Ongoing COVID-19 Precautions: Consistent with CDC guidance, fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks or maintain social distance in most places within NYS, including within OPWDD certified, operated and/or funded facilities and programs. However, individuals and staff will be required to wear masks, to the extent they can medically tolerate one, regardless of vaccination status, while being transported between OPWDD certified locations or transported as part of an OPWDD certified service (e.g. from a residence to a day program).

Per CDC guidance, individuals and staff who are unvaccinated are expected to continue to wear masks, if they can medically tolerate one, and maintain social distance to the extent possible at certified locations and/or when delivering or receiving certified services. Unvaccinated visitors to such locations must continue to wear masks and maintain social distance to the extent possible for the duration of the visit.

All high touch surfaces should continue to be cleaned and disinfected consistent with CDC guidelines.

Residential facilities with positive cases of COVID-19 should continue to adhere to the protocols contained in the document Management of Co-Circulation of Influenza and COVID-19 Infections, issued October 20, 2020.

Reporting Requirements:
OPWDD will continue to track positive cases of COVID-19 within its programs to monitor for trends and inform the need for any additional precautionary restrictions. As such, providers must continue to report positive COVID-19 cases to OPWDD, consistent with COVID-19 Notification and IRMA Reporting Requirements for OPWDD Providers, last issued on November 2, 2020.

All providers must continue to report vaccination status of individuals and staff via the Multi-Agency Vaccination Data Collection System.

Family Visitation Update

As of 12/29/2020 Community Services is modifying the protocol on home visits (to family homes and in IRAs).  Please read below for specific guidelines. 

We implemented the visit pause based on an abundance of caution for those we support and the wish to keep people healthy and safe.  At the time the pause went into effect we had a significant number of positive cases among our IRA’s and Erie County rates had increased as well.  We continue to follow OPWDD, CDC and local Health Department guidance and evaluate the agency status weekly.

As the Erie County rates continue to decrease, they are still over 5%.   We have seen a significant reduction of positive cases among our IRA’s and we attribute that to the pause on home visitations.

We recognize the desire to be with family, especially during the Holiday’s and we appreciate your understanding and willingness to work with us.  Therefore, we are modifying our family visitation protocols to allow for pre-planned, day-time visits.  We believe that prolonged overnight visits, would become difficult to manage and place those we support at greater risk.

It remains priority to keep your loved ones safe and healthy therefore, while we are modifying the pause of family visitation, we are doing so with specific guidelines in place.

Managers are responsible for completing pre-screening prior to the visit to the IRA or to the family home.

Screening questions include: 

  1. Do you have any symptoms of COVID to include, but not limited to: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell? Upon arrival your temperature will be taken.
  2. Have you come in contact with anyone who has had symptoms of COVID (see above) and/or been to a “designated quarantined state” as identified by the NYDOH in the last 14 days?
  3. If you have been instructed to self-quarantine by the Department of Health (DOH), Center for Disease Control (CDC) or their medical provider in the last 14 days?
  4. Have you come in contact with anyone under a DOH quarantine in the last 14 days.

Screening Determination:

If you respond with a YES to ANY of the above questions, we cannot allow the visit to take place at this time.

Additional Safeguards: 

Individuals may participate in home and family visits if there is reasonable assurance obtained that appropriate risk mitigation strategies are in place and that those, they are visiting do not have a confirmed nor suspected case of COVID-19.

Appropriate risk mitigation includes social distancing, use of masks or other face coverings when tolerated, as well meticulous attention to hand washing, proper cleaning and disinfection.

Home visits must be pre-planned and approved of by the Director or Assistant Director of Residential Services.  Again, with this modification to our protocol we are allowing for daytime visits for now.  We will continue to adhere to CDC, OPWDD, and local Health Department guidance, monitor rates in the County and within our agency and re-visit our protocols as necessary.

Upon leaving the site, families should remember risk mitigation strategies, as stated above, and that exposure to members of different household and to public places should be done with caution and on a limited basis. See “Family Guidance for In-Home and Off-Site Visits” that includes best practices to implement these risk mitigation strategies.

If your loved one resides in an IRA where there is a positive case, and/or if someone is exhibiting signs of symptoms of COVID-19 and/or  if someone was in close contact/exposed to someone with COVID-19 and/or the site is in quarantine, we must pause the home visit until the quarantine or isolation period has ended as directed by the New York State.

Managers will be reaching out to touch base on your family’s specific situations.

General questions can be sent to

Family Visitation

Please be advised, IRA visitation remains PAUSED (as announced on 11/12/2020) out of an abundance of caution for both those we support and our employees.  This includes family visits to your home as well as visits at the IRA.  We made this decision due to the rapid community spread of COVID-19 and a way to mitigate the spread among our group settings.  It’s important to protect your loved one, you and our employees.

Please know that we have made this decision with the best interest of all involved.

Important Information about the COVID-19 Vaccine for People with Developmental Disabilities

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you are likely aware, the first doses of the long-awaited vaccine against COVID-19 have made their way to New York State. On December 14, Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse from Queens, made history as the first person in the United States to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. All of us at OPWDD are grateful that a vaccine that can help protect the people we support, and our staff who care for them, is now in sight.

Governor Cuomo has announced a phased-in approach to vaccine distribution and people with developmental disabilities living in congregate settings, and the staff who care for them, will be among the first to receive the vaccine in Phase 1 of the distribution. You can find more information about the phased-in approach to vaccine distribution here.

At this time, I’d like to alert you to some materials we have made available to help you understand the vaccine distribution process and what it means for you. These include a video explaining the vaccine and a plain language document. All the materials about the COVID-19 vaccine will be found on the OPWDD COVID-19 webpage, including a copy of the NYS Department of Health Screening and Consent Form for COVID-19. As new guidance becomes available related to the vaccination process, it will also be posted on that page.

While plans for distributing the vaccine are underway and are moving quickly, a lot needs to happen to ensure success. First, I would like to emphasize that the more people who are offered the vaccine and choose to take it, the better the public health outcome will be. As valued members of our OPWDD community, I appeal to each and every one of you to help educate others about the importance of vaccination and do your part to encourage widespread vaccination. Each person eligible for vaccination will need to consent to being vaccinated. OPWDD will soon be issuing guidance on the consent process and will be sharing it via our email delivery system and on our website.

While the vaccine’s arrival in New York is welcome news, please remember that the threat of COVID-19 is far from over. The vaccine may not prevent people from catching COVID-19 and does not protect against any other viruses, but people who are vaccinated are much less likely to become sick after the vaccine. And if they do catch COVID-19 after vaccination, they are much less likely to feel sick or die as a result of this virus.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned repeatedly, COVID-19 can spread anywhere, even places where you feel safe, like your home. Please continue to follow public health guidance by staying at least 6 feet away from other people, washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask when you are in the presence of other people and avoiding crowds both small and large. If we take every precaution available to us, we will have the best chance of staying safe from this extremely contagious virus.

Please be certain that you are signed up for OPWDD updates. It is the quickest and best way to stay up to date about COVID-19 and all OPWDD news. Sign up here.

Please stay safe,

Theodore Kastner, M.D., M.S.