AUSTIN (KXAN) — New guidelines from the state hospital regulator require hospitals in Texas to limit patient visitors to only those who are essential, such as medical professionals and authorized caregivers acting specifically on a patient’s behalf.

David Kostroun, Texas Health and Human Services Commission deputy executive commissioner for Regulatory Services, said the new measures were a response to the governor’s disaster declaration over coronavirus. HHS is responsible for licensing and regulating 703 hospitals throughout Texas.

Essential visitors include:

  • Government personnel
  • One designated caregiver acting on the patient’s behalf, such as a parent of a minor or a legally authorized representative
  • Patient family members no more than one at a time
  • Clergy members authorized by the hospital
  • Additional family members of patients at the end of life or presenting at the emergency department, subject to hospital policy

The prohibition applies to general hospitals, special hospitals and private psychiatric hospitals but does not include outpatient clinics operated by hospitals.

“We understand these new restrictions will be difficult for patients and their families and loved ones,” Kostroun said in a press release. “We must take every measure to protect patients, as well as hospital personnel who are on the front lines in the battle against this new virus.”

HHS says hospitals must screen anyone entering the facilities, including staff, medical professionals and other essential visitors. Hospitals also must “maintain strong infection prevention and control programs to prevent the spread of communicable diseases,” and must immediately report any possible patient, visitor or staff exposure to COVID-19 to the local health department or the Department of State Health Services.

Hospitals are also required to follow these guidelines:

  • Post signs at the entrance about access restrictions
  • Check for fever of visitors and staff
  • Continue to monitor and isolate patients with fever or acute respiratory symptoms
  • Provide infection control training to staff
  • Execute frequent handwashing
  • Provide personal protective equipment to patients or staff as needed