For more than four months, long-term care facilities have been closed to visitors in an attempt to limit the spread of Covid-19 among the state’s most vulnerable population.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Jacksonville Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said it’s time for the state to explore ways to safely allow visitation to resume. A committee is being formed to look into the topic further, and DeSantis also raised the possibility of allowing people with Covid antibodies to visit their loved ones in long-term care facilities.
“I think that if you have a way forward, it would put a lot of people at ease knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, acknowledging the pain many families are experiencing from not being able to see their relatives. “We have to figure out a way not only to protect folks from the virus but also address some of the serious emotional damage that has been done by our countermeasures to the virus.”
Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said there isn’t a day that goes by that her heart doesn’t break because of the policy.
“We have an opportunity to provide hope and a pathway to support the very connection that we constantly advocate for,” said Mayhew, who will serve on the governor’s committee that will also include caregivers.
During the roundtable, panelists shared other things that have been implemented in long-term care facilities to connect residents with their families, such as tablets and “virtual hugs” in the form of artwork by children. Mary Daniel, a Jacksonville resident who took a job as a dishwasher at her husband’s Alzheimer’s care facility so she could see him, said virtual measures are nice, but they’re not enough.
“I’m looking for a real hug,” said Daniel, who participated in Tuesday’s panel and spoke of the desperation she and other families feel in not being able to see their loved ones. “Our goal is to get to our loved ones. They need a hug from us. Not a picture of me on FaceTime. My goal is to safety and as quickly as possible and with the right guidelines get us back to our families.”
Other ideas floated during the roundtable include outdoor visits and designating essential caregivers who will be tested regularly and wear PPE during visits.
Statewide, 27,939 cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed in long-term care facilities. Pinellas County has more than 2,400 such cases.