JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced changes in visitation guidelines for long-term care facilities in Florida that will allow loved ones to again visit those who are most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
DeSantis fought back tears as he spoke in Jacksonville about cutting off visitation to those living in the facilities during the first month of the coronavirus pandemic.
“They’re not demanding a medical miracle, they’re not having unrealistic expectations; they just would like to be able to say goodbye, or to hug somebody,” DeSantis said before becoming visibly emotional.
Under the new guidelines, visitors have to wear personal protective equipment and then undergo screening that includes a temperature check, DeSantis said. All visitation must be done by appointment only, and long-term care residents can designate up to five visitors with two visitors at a time for visitation. There are no minors allowed in the facility at this time but could but allowed soon.
No facility can allow visitors unless 14 days have passed without the onset of a new positive case in either a resident or staff member, DeSantis said.
The only exception to the 14-day rule is for essential caregivers and compassionate caregivers. An essential caregiver is defined as an individual who provides health care services or assistance with daily life, like bathing, dressing and eating. A compassionate care visitor is a visitor intended to provide emotional support to help a resident face a difficult situation such as the end of life, a difficult transition or some kind of loss.
”I think it’s smart incentivizing good practices on part of the facilities,” DeSantis said. “Because if you do that, then you’re going to be able to have the visitation obviously your your your residents family members will be very happy with that.”
DeSantis said facilities aren’t required to test visitors, but they can provide testing if they want to.
The governor and members of the long-term care facilitiy task force said Jacksonville resident and advocate Mary Daniel helped inspire the new rules. Daniel, whose husband suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, took a job as a dishwasher in her husband’s long-term care facility to spend permitted time with him.
“I’m turning in my two weeks notice today,” Daniel said with a laugh. “I’m not going to be a dishwasher. I’m going back to being just a wife.”
Daniel said that essential caregivers like her are allowed to touch their loved ones.
“There is hand-holding, there is back-rubbing, there is hugs, so we’re gonna see a lot of that in the coming days I’m very excited about that,” she said.
The heartache of those families kept away was all too real for people like Jim Muir who has been unable to visit his 91-year-old mother for more than 5 months.
“It’s important for her here and now to have family with her just as it’s important for us to be with her near the end of her life,” Muir said.
Muir said his only communication with his mom, Jeanett, has been over the phone.
“I will be glad when we can get things back to normal and I can see my children, I’ve got 6 children,” Jeanett Freeman said. “It’s hard not to be able to see them. I’ve just been able to talk to them over the phone in the last several months.”
Muir said he plans to pay his mom a long overdue visit as soon as possible.
The governor’s task force does not have a timeline right now on when these centers will allow *ull visitor access again.
Leaders told News4Jax the group will be thoughtful and flexible as they monitor the new adjustment to the guidelines and make decisions based on that as to how to move forward.