BOSTON – She wore a mask and sat across the nursing home patio from her elderly mother, but Marcie Abramson's emotions were on full display as the two connected in person for the first time in nearly three months.
Like many states, Massachusetts in mid-March limited visits to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to protect those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, which has exacted a heavy toll among older Americans. More than 60% of the state’s nearly 7,500 COVID-19 deaths have involved nursing home residents.
Nationally, over 35,500 people have died from coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, about a third of the national toll, according to a running tally by The Associated Press.
But in Massachusetts, in-person visits resumed Wednesday with masks, social distancing — and plenty of tears and laughter.
“You wanna give me a kiss?" Abramson called out to her 89-year-old mother, Cynthia Abramson, at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston in the pair's first encounter since the pandemic began.
Kisses were strictly off-limits, so the pair exchanged an “air hug.”
“Oh, Ma! I love you so much! I really, really missed you,” the daughter gushed, choking back tears. ”The day finally came. The day is here. I get to visit you."
Under strict Massachusetts guidelines aimed at avoiding a spike in coronavirus cases, visits must be scheduled and take place in designated outdoor areas, with the exception of end-of-life situations.
Nursing home residents are allowed only two visitors at a time, and everyone must wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Residents with confirmed or possible cases of the disease cannot have visitors, although those who have recovered can.
Abramson and her husband, Jeffrey Hunt, had their temperature taken and were screened for symptoms — additional steps that all visitors must take. Facilities also are taking care to disinfect chairs and other objects that visitors have used or touched.
“I have to say that I was nervous to see my mom today," she said. “I was really, really nervous. I didn’t sleep because she had been thinking that today may never come, that no one would ever be able to visit again and that’s where she would end up. ... The emotional and mental toll on people has been extremely difficult.”
Hunt said his mother-in-law developed some major health challenges just as the pandemic began.
“So her ability to just process information and understand what’s happening to her, what’s going on around her, was significantly compromised. And that just made the whole quarantine situation exponentially more difficult for her," he said.
Associated Press writer William J. Kole contributed to this report.