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Families can visit loved ones in long-term care, but restrictions in place

Florida’s governor lifts previous COVID ban on facilities in place since March but there is a protocol to follow

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Smiles and cell phone conversations exchanged between a glass door. This is a window into how 98-year-old Isabel Garcia has been able to stay close to her family during the pandemic, explains her daughter, Lourdes Clark.

”Then it came to a point where it was no longer possible (to see her); that was really hard,” Clark said.

Clark said the assisted living community of The Pointe of North Gables was on point from Day One in managing the challenges and protocol changes. Owner Lonnie Steckler explained why they worked so hard to create safe window-side visits and host video chats.

“Because we understood it must be so difficult for them not to be able to talk, to see or hug or kiss or touch their loved one,” Steckler said.

Clark said: “Just touching them, hugging them, kissing them, that is what they feel and that was not there.”

Then came an emotional announcement by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis that the state’s ban on visiting long-term care facilities will be lifted.

“It was a very difficult thing to do,” DeSantis said of his March executive order. “Part of having a healthy society is understanding that human beings seek affection … people understand they have loved ones who are in the last stage of their life. They are not demanding a medical miracle. They are not having unrealistic expectations. They would just like to be able to say goodbye or to hug somebody.”

However, there are new normal safety guidelines that include face coverings and restricted visits.

“They need to continue to be safe. When they are visiting the facilities, they need to wear appropriate PPE, they need to practice social distancing. This is still an at risk population and we need to continue to keep them safe,” Steckler said.

Clark knows exactly what she will do on her visit to see her mom — hold her and hug her.

“The first thing we are going to do is we are going to run over there and give her kisses and hugs. I don’t even think we are going to talk,” said Clark. “As soon as they give us the OK.”

The following visitation guidelines must be followed, according to the new orders:

  • Visitations by appointment only.
  • Be eighteen (18) years of age or older. No minors at this time.
  • Wear a face mask and perform proper hand hygiene.
  • Sign a consent form noting understanding of the facility’s visitation and infection prevention and control policies.
  • Comply with facility-provided COVID-19 testing, if offered.
  • Visit in a resident’s room or other facility-designated area.
  • Maintain social distance of at least six feet with staff and residents, and limit movement in the facility.
  • Facilities must have a continuous 14 days with no new facility onset of resident or staff COVID-19 cases to allow visitors.

(See the Executive Order from Florida’s Governor below.)

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local 10.com.