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Long-term care facility COVID-19 restrictions lifted in North Carolina
As infections drop, so have barriers
 
Published Sunday, March 28, 2021 8:10 pm
by Kate Martin | Carolina Public Press

GETTY IMAGES
As the rate of COVID-19 infections have dropped in long-term care facilities like nursing homes, North Carolina is removing restrictions on visits.

Phil Wells and his siblings visited his 93-year-old mother every weekend.


Described as a “social butterfly” by her son, Rosalee Wells was a homemaker who raised five children. She lives in a Wake County nursing home and had a vibrant social life before the pandemic.


“We took her out for lunch. We took her shopping. We took her to dinner. We took her to Sunday school and church,” Wells said. “Her friends and neighbors took her out for outings. And that was part of her life.”


Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.


“Well, suddenly, my sister took her back to the facility one day, and they said, ‘You can’t go back into her room with her.’ And when my mother walked back in the door that day, thus began the COVID lockdown.”


Family members had been able to visit with Rosalee outdoors on a screened-in porch or talk with her on the phone.


But Rosalee, who has dementia, didn’t understand why her family couldn’t hug her or why they were wearing masks.


“The main thing I want to do is to hug my mother’s neck again. That’s what I want,” Wells said early last week. On Friday, he got his wish.


Earlier this month the state rescinded a health order that restricted visits to residents in long-term care facilities like nursing homes after new federal guidance indicated in-person visits in nursing homes and other care settings could resume.


“Facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said a little more than a week ago, regardless of vaccination status of the visitor or resident.


In North Carolina, some nursing home residents started getting vaccinated in December. More than 80% of residents have had their first dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines, said Jennifer MacFarquhar, an epidemiologist with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.


Coronavirus cases and outbreaks have also dropped in the past couple of months.


“One of the other positives that we’ve seen is the length of time that an outbreak is ongoing in facilities, that length of time has also been decreasing,” MacFarquhar said. Early in the pandemic, some outbreaks lasted longer than six weeks.


Though visits are now allowed, MacFarquhar said she recommends people continue to wear masks, wash their hands and stay physically distant.


“There is a caveat in there that if, particularly if both parties are vaccinated, if they choose to have that close physical contact, they can do so,” MacFarquhar said, as long as both parties wear well-fitting face masks.


A person is fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, MacFarquhar said.


A different way of living
For Phil Wells, plans that would otherwise be mundane have new meaning.


“This Friday, I’m taking her to the dentist. It will be the first time,” he paused for several moments before continuing, “in over a year that I’ve gotten

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