I-TEAM: S.C. nursing homes stay closed to visitors after new COVID-19 spike

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 4:00 PM EDT
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Thursday, June 11, 2020

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines to the states for reopening nursing homes last month, but facilities in South Carolina will remain closed to visitors indefinitely.

This comes after a week of record-breaking new COVID-19 cases across the state.

It’s impacting local families waiting to see their loved ones.

It has been more than three months since families have been able to visit their loved ones in nursing homes. Many now worry that reopening will come too late for their aging parents and grandparents.

“Our thing was ‘I love you bunches.’”

That’s the case for Dixie Taylor. Every smile, every picture, reminds her of the emptiness she feels in heart.

It’s been nearly 90 days since she last saw her mother, Mildred. Prior to the pandemic, she visited her 97-year-old mother nearly every day at the place at Pepper Hill.

In mid-May, the CDC issued guidelines to the states for reopening nursing homes.

“I was under the impression they would open up soon but there would be some restrictions,” Taylor said.

Until she got a call from Pepper Hill on Tuesday: “I got a call that visiting privileges have been extended indefinitely,” Taylor said.

Looking into it, we obtained an email from the DHEC to nursing home providers in South Carolina stating, “this is a reminder that visitation restrictions to all nursing homes and assisted living facilities are still in effect. Facilities must continue to fully restrict visits from the public that are unrelated to an end-of-life situation for a resident.”

The date on the email is Friday, June 5, the same day DHEC reported a 380 percent jump in new COVID-19 cases from the month before.

Data from DHEC shows new COVID-19 cases have been steadily climbing in South Carolina since the beginning of the month. On June 1, 297 new cases were reported. On the 5th, that number jumped to 447 and then rose again the next day.

The numbers are still going up too because today DHEC reported a record high for South Carolina with 687 new cases.

The virus is on the rise in Georgia too. We also analyzed data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

On Monday, the Georgia DPH reported 599 new cases. Two days later it was 731 new cases, more than a 20 percent increase since Monday.

“I know they are trying to protect the elderly and that is a wonderful thing but I also know there is some common sense and protective rules that we could apply,” Taylor said.

According to the American Psychological Association, during the COVID-19 pandemic, these vulnerable adults are facing even more stress due to fears about contracting the virus. Those fears are exacerbated now that the support they typically rely on like organized activities and visits from friends and family are no longer available.

“If they get down and depressed and can’t see anyone they know or recognize, it is not a good situation,” Taylor said.

Taylor's mother was born a year after quarantine ended for the Spanish Flu.

Taylor has one big fear.

“End of life will come, and I won’t be there and I won’t have seen her,” Taylor said.

DHEC sent two emails to nursing homes over the last week. The first was restricting visitors on the property of nursing homes. The second was restricting visitors to going inside, which means families can still visit their loved ones through a window.

It is unknown when visitor restrictions will ease or be lifted in South Carolina or Georgia.

Copyright WRDW/WAGT 2020. All rights reserved.

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