AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – In an effort to protect hospital patients from coronavirus, Texas Health and Human Services is now requiring hospitals to limit visitors.

For the time being, access will only be granted to “essential visitors such as medical professionals and authorized caregivers acting specifically on a patient’s behalf,” the agency said in a news release Monday.

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“At the direction of Governor Greg Abbott and effective immediately, we are requiring hospitals to prevent non-essential visitors from access given the significant health and safety risk to patients posed by COVID-19,” said David Kostroun, HHS deputy executive commissioner for Regulatory Services. “These measures are precautionary and based on the state disaster declaration made by Governor Abbott, as well as new federal guidance.”

This new prohibition applies to general hospitals, special hospitals and private psychiatric hospitals, excluding outpatient clinics operated by hospitals.

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; and additional family members of patients at the end of life or presenting at the emergency department, subject to hospital policy.

“We understand these new restrictions will be difficult for patients and their families and loved ones,” Kostroun said. “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.”

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Hospitals also must implement screening protocols for anyone entering their facility, including staff, medical professionals, and other essential visitors, using guidelines issued by CMS. Under certain compassionate care situations, such as a patient’s end-of-life, non-essential visitors will be allowed in a hospital, and the facility must follow all CMS protocols.

Texas HHS is working closely with the Office of the Governor, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the Texas Department of Emergency Management, and other state and federal agencies to monitor and assess the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Hospitals in Texas are required to maintain strong infection prevention and control programs to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. If a hospital believes a patient, visitor, or employee might have been exposed or infected with COVID-19, it is required to immediately report it to the local health department or to DSHS.

Texas HHS is also requiring hospitals to 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; and provide personal protective equipment to patients or staff as needed.

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