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When will nursing homes allow visitors again? Gov. says numbers are 'encouraging'

A local nursing home administrator tells First Coast News that they can't lift restrictions until the state gets to phase 3.

PALATKA, Fla. — Nursing homes in Florida have been prohibiting visitors for two months in order to protect residents, staff, and families from the novel coronavirus. As more places reopen and restrictions are lifted, when will you be able to visit your loved ones again?

Crestwood Nursing Center's administration Stephanie Showers says that can't happen until phase 3. She says they've been following all the guidelines. 

“Our team has decided that even in our lifestyle at home we try our best to follow CDC regulations at all times in order to keep ourselves in good health in order to come here and take care of our residents," says Showers. 

Gladys Burnett is a resident at Crestwood. Her younger sister, Jane Black, used to see her sister twice a week, but that has changed. 

“I would really like to go see her more because I really do miss her," Jane Black says. "I used to take her out to lunch and everything. As soon as this is over I’ll be able to pick her up and take her out to lunch”

Credit: Leah Shields
Jane Black isn't able to hug her sister, Gladys, right now. Her sister is in a local nursing home. In their photo together, Jane is on the left.

“She had a birthday May 3. They brought her down and they pulled the curtains back. When I brought her present, they took it for me and put it inside and the lady got on the telephone," Jane says.

They're able to keep in touch in creative ways, like the window birthday surprise, and by talking on the phone. Showers says using the phone is a form of speech therapy for many of her residents. 

Showers says it is hard to see everyone isolated from their families. “Trying to work through that and hold back your emotions as a professional, that is very difficult," she says. 

RELATED: Jacksonville begins antibody testing, opens transitional facility for Florida nursing home patients

Crestwood is having a parade of families on Friday so residents can see their loved ones from a safe distance. Showers says they are working with the city of Palatka and local law enforcement to make sure everyone is safe. 

Showers says restrictions have helped her nursing home stay healthy. She tells First Coast News that everyone at the facility was tested and came back negative for COVID-19.  

Governor Ron DeSantis spoke about nursing homes on Wednesday saying the case numbers and amount of testing happening at long term care facilities is "encouraging". He says he is looking at ways to allow visitors again, but the state does not have a timeline for when that may happen or know what requirements they may need to put in place before that can happen.

RELATED: Florida exploring options to re-open long-term care facilities to visitors

“That may be requiring PPE, maybe requires a rapid test. That’ll all be determined. These are folks that I think could really use a psychological boost and to see some family again would be a really really good thing," he says. 

Jane doesn't think they should lift the restrictions any time soon. She says they are keeping her and her sister safe right now. 

Dozens of local nursing homes show positive cases of COVID-19. The state released the numbers of deaths at long term care facilities. 776 people - staff or residents - of a long-term care facility have died from the virus.

"Even though there’s a lot of people that want to get into there right now, we could have a germ and not know it," Jane says.