New York clarified its guidance on hospital visitation Friday to require hospitals to allow one support person to accompany women giving birth, and one support person at a time in pediatric emergency or hospitalization settings.

In order to slow the spread of coronavirus in medical facilities, the state Department of Health had previously suspended all hospital visitation except when medically necessary, or when family members or legal representatives had to be present in an imminent end-of-life situation with an individual in the hospital.

While parts of this guidance is still in place, the department clarified its position to ensure hospitals allowed one support person, such as a partner, doula or parent, into labor and delivery settings and pediatric emergency settings, as long as the visitors aren’t showing symptoms of coronavirus.

“The Department considers one support person essential to patient care throughout labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period,” the department’s statement read.

Changing guidance for birthing mothers in New York

As of Saturday morning, more than 600,000 people had signed a petition on the clarified guidelines, urging private hospitals in the New York City area to respect birthing mothers’ need to have in-person support from a loved one or birth worker.

The New York Presbyterian Medical system had said it would ban all visitors on March 30, even in the labor and delivery area, according to its website.

“We understand that this will be difficult for our patients and their loved ones, but we believe that this is a necessary step to promote the safety of our new mothers and children,” New York Presbyterian’s statement read.

In pediatric settings, the patient or family member/caregiver may designate two support people, but only one may be present with the patient at a time, the state health department said.

All visitors must be screened for coronavirus symptoms like cough, shortness of breath or fever, as well as potential exposure to coronavirus in other settings, upon their entry into a clinical area of the hospital and every 12 hours after that.

They must don personal protective equipment like a mask, gown and gloves and stay in the patient’s designated hospital room.

It is not recommended for any individual over 70 years old to be designated as a support person in any medical setting, due to their increased risk of coronavirus infection, the department said.

Hospitals were directed to work on providing other forms of communication between visitors and hospitalized individuals; some are trying to provide tablets at bedsides, for example.