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Age of isolation: Families worried they won’t get into long-term care facilities anytime soon

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(WEEK) - As the days get colder, Dale White said, “I just have to bundle up more, heavier clothing. But I’ll be here, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

For eight months -- exactly 245 days -- thousands of people inside a central Illinois long-term care facility have gone without a hug, a touch, or a kiss.

Visitors were banned in March because of COVID-19.

Some families are worried they won’t get back in anytime soon.

White, 72, sits outside a window every other morning at nine. His wife, Nancy, is on the other side – it’s the only way they can see each other.

“I love you babe,” he told his wife during a window visit.

They have been having conversations like this for about eight months. It’s the closest he can get to his wife of 50 years.

“You look pretty too,” he told his wife.

In October, the Illinois Department of Public Health issued revised guidance on methods to safely allow visitors. It suggest outdoor visits and limited indoor visits. But, you still have to stay socially distant. And, facilities must be COVID-19-free for 14 days.

“Limited movement throughout the building, limited number of visitors, and all of that is contingent upon the facility’s Covid status, and the surrounding communities Covid status,” said Tim Wiley, regional director of operations for the Loft Rehab and Nursing.

He hopes to be open for outdoor visits sometime this week, only if their facility and community don’t get more COVID-19 cases.

“The staff here are tested weekly. All the residents are tested weekly,” he said.

With COVID-19 cases continuing to go up in central Illinois and across the state, more than 200 residents in long-term care facilities have died from the virus. In the state, more than 5,000 residents have died.

A new report by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living said new COVID cases are increasing in nursing homes in the U.S. because of a community spread among the general population. But, in a recent online IDPH meeting, Deb Burdsall, an infection preventionist, expressed worry about people already in the building.

"Staff tend to be the ones that bring it into nursing homes, bring COVID-19 into nursing homes into congregate care settings,” she said.

“The staff, every time they arrive for their shift, they fill out a questionnaire, they’re screened, their temps are taken,” said Wiley.

Wiley said they are doing all they can to keep the virus out of their facilities. It’s a constant battle.

But birthdays and holidays will go on, celebrated differently. And we don’t know how long that will last.

And as the leaves fall off and the temperature drops, Dale White will still be here at nine every other morning, outside this window.

“That means I just have to bundle up more, heavier clothing, but I’ll be here, I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said White.

Amber Krycka

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