From Open to Closed: COVID-19 Restrictions on Previously Unrestricted Visitation Policies in Adult Intensive Care Units

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Background: In March 2020, rising numbers of COVID-19 infections contributed to changes in intensive care unit visitation policies, with some facilities allowing no visitors.

Objective: To compare visitation policies of Magnet and Pathway to Excellence hospitals with prepandemic open visitation in adult intensive care units.

Methods: A mixed-methods study was conducted from January through March 2021. Quantitative data on visitation policies were extracted from websites of 96 Magnet and Pathway to Excellence hospitals that had allowed unrestricted visits in adult intensive care units before the pandemic. Qualitative data were collected via semistructured interviews with 9 nurse leaders from these hospitals.

Results: More than 1 year after the start of the pandemic, all of the hospitals had instituted restricted visitation policies. The policies varied, with little to no evidence-based justification. Restrictions included 83% of hospitals (n = 80) allowing just 1 visitor per day and 69% of hospitals (n = 50 of 72) allowing no visits at all for patients with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit. Five themes were found when nurse leaders' interviews were analyzed: visitors not welcome, doing harm, external decisions at system level, visiting within limits, and changes in critical care nursing work.

Conclusion: Results of the study suggest that despite the vast amount of evidence supporting the benefits of visitation and the harms of restricted visitation and expert recommendations for returning safe visitation to hospitals, Magnet and Pathway to Excellence hospitals continue to enforce restricted visitation policies in intensive care units. Patients, families, and nursing and health care staff must partner to create pandemic-proof visitation policies.


Online ahead of print September 30, 2022.

PMID: 36175358