The following editorial published in the Amarillo Globe-News on Sept. 16:
Even though the state has recently relaxed restrictions around visiting those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, people still find themselves caught between two difficult health challenges: the powerful effects of isolation and a virus that has proven especially lethal for those above a certain age.
The state moved to protect specific populations in mid-March as the pandemic took hold across the country with devastating effects in nursing homes, assisted-living centers and other long-term care facilities. While the decision slowed the spread of the virus, the imposed isolation, covering a span of more than 140 days, took a toll not only on residents but also on their loved ones.
Friends and family members want the comfort that comes from being able to visit residents of these facilities. The enforced separation has increased the anxiety for many. What once was a simple procedure has been necessarily complicated by virus outbreaks and public health protocols.
Technology made it possible for “visits” to take place, but it was not the same, and it was also seen as temporary solution. Few things are as precious to people as human contact. For residents of these facilities, a highlight is the arrival of a visitor’s familiar face. It is a welcome interruption in a regimented day. Being present and being affirmed by friends and family members does wonders for everyone, but especially for those in care facilities, which, despite all the good intentions, are not the same as being in one’s home.
After five months, state health officials moved, issuing guidance that allowed some indoor visits at assisted-living facilities, provided safeguards were observed, according to a story from the Texas Tribune. Such facilities needed to have plexiglass barriers in place, no active cases of the coronavirus among residents and no confirmed cases among staff in the previous two weeks. Still, as has been the case for months, physical contact between residents and visitors is not permitted.
Nursing facilities must observe more stringent protocols, including weekly tests of staff members and only outdoor visits are allowed. As the Tribune reported, 57% of nursing homes were still reporting at least one active case last week, and sadly, deaths in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities account for more than a third of the state’s death toll.
That means extreme caution must continue to be the top priority, and these small steps represent what we hope will be the first ones taken on a path of balancing public health with peace of mind for residents and their loved ones alike.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are constantly assessing what actions are necessary to keep residents and staff safe in the facilities,” Phil Wilson, the acting executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said in the Tribune’s story. “By following these procedures and rules, facilities can effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help us achieve our shared goal of reuniting residents with their families and friends.”
We hope to see these restrictions continue to be relaxed as is appropriate across the state. Virus case numbers and other metrics vary widely and must be taken into consideration. Likewise, facilities should comply as swiftly as possible with measures to allow residents to reconnect with friends and family.
Being deprived of human contact takes a toll on people. Finding ways to restore any sense of normalcy, such as it might be, cannot be underestimated.