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Nursing homes reopening for in-person visitation, but some say too many restrictions remain

Thanks to vaccines, for the most recent week of data available there were only 22 new resident COVID-19 infections and 31 staff infections.

WALLINGFORD, Conn. — With the COVID-19 numbers dropping, nursing homes across the state are starting to reopen for in-person visitation. While thankful, some family members stay it’s still not good enough.

It used to be that a nursing home could only offer in-person visitation if they hadn't had a COVID case in two weeks.

Now, The Center for Medicare & Medicare Services says nursing homes should offer in-person visitation for all residents at all times unless the county infection rate is above 10% and less than 70% of the nursing home is vaccinated.

There are a few other exceptions but overall, this will go a long way toward easing the loneliness and isolation.

Thanks to vaccines, the most recent week of data available showed there were only 22 new COVID-19 infections for residents and 31 staff infections. That's why most nursing homes are once again able to offer in-person visitation.

Exactly one year ago, Ginger Andreoli Muscarella dropped her dad Fred off at his Connecticut nursing home after spending the day with him. She gave him a hug and kiss goodbye. Not knowing it would be the last one she would give him in over a year.

"I said see you later. See you tomorrow. March 10th, 2020, I get a phone call and the administrator just basically said there are no visitors until further notice," Muscarella explained.

It’s been a year of loneliness and isolation.

"He’s really never been the type of person to cry much and to see him she’s a tear over anything is just heartbreaking," she said.

Muscarella’s dad suffers from dementia. She told FOX61 that even though nursing homes are beginning to reopen for in-person visitation, there are still too many restrictions.

"Sure, they are opening. But it’s still six feet apart. No hands-on, no hugging, no giving your loved one a kiss hello or a kiss goodbye," she said. "It’s not good enough this needs to change."

The group Caregivers for Compromise held a rally in Hamden on Wednesday as part of a week of such events across the state this week to commemorate the visitation ban. The group is calling for residents to be allowed access to an in-person essential caregiver.

"Our loved ones became very attached to us. Without us imagine how it was for them," said Irma, whose mother recently died in a Connecticut nursing home. "A year is way too long."

Over at Masonicare in Wallingford, they reopened for in-person visitation Wednesday.

"Extremely exciting for us," CEO JP Venoit said.

Nursing homes like Masonicare have fought and continue to fight a heroic battle against an invisible enemy.

"Probably the most stressful time I’ve had in my 30 years with Masonicare, but I will also tell you it’s the proudest," Venoit said.

They’ve facilitated 14,000 virtual visits, 7,000 window visits and now have conducted 47,000 COVID tests and 4,500 vaccinations at Masonicare alone.

"I will tell you it warms our heart as an organization to be able to do this," added Venoit.

Under current CMS guidance, nursing homes that haven’t had a COVID-19 case in either a resident or staff member in two weeks can offer in-person visitation, but if a case is discovered the visitor ban goes back in place and the two-week clock starts over.

As we emerge from the pandemic, many questions remain about the future of the long-term care industry. Average occupancy is only 72% and four Connecticut nursing homes have gone out of business in the last 12 months.

"Without assistance from the state and federal government you are going to continue to see nursing homes either go out of business or reduce the number of beds," said Venoit.

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