TYLER, Texas — For over a year, Texas care facility residents weren't allowed to see family or friends unless they were designated as essential care providers.
On March 23, State health officials announced that nursing and assisted living facilities would be able to decide if visitations would be allowed for vaccinated residents.
Stormy Roberson, the facility administrator at the Waterton Health and Rehabilitation in Tyler, says the pandemic has been difficult and isolating.
"We've done very well in my building about keeping COVID out," he explained. "We've limited, any personal interaction between people. So there's hesitation, of course, worried about increases in the number of infections."
Roberson says he made the decision to welcome visitations for residents because of the impact vaccines have made.
According to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, from Dec. 20 to March 7, COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents in the U.S. dropped 96% and deaths by 91%.
"January we were 15% in Smith County, in February dropped to 7, the last data I looked at, 5.5 and it was just excellent," Roberson said. "That's exactly what you want to see. So, as long as the positivity rates continue to go down and people follow our infection control guidance, I see no issue with continuing visitation policy."
Waterton has a population of 58 people and 84% are vaccinated so far and COVID-19 protocols remain in place. Roberson says over the course of the pandemic only nine residents and 23 staff members have contracted the virus.
"We were monitoring and still are the resident's response to symptoms three times a day," he said. "Isolation testing and monitoring, so just constant vigilance helped us a lot."
Before a resident can have a visitor, Roberson says there are some things guests have to do to prepare.
"They have to schedule an appointment first, they'll come in, we have a screening form that we use searching for signs and symptoms, and if they pass the screening form, they'll be able to wear a mask and they'll be taken to the resident's room," he said.
Roberson says, Waterton is still working on vaccines for residents, and he hopes that as people see the impact for nursing homes others' hesitancy to get a shot will alleviate.
"We were probably the most vulnerable population, we saw that nursing homes got hit very heavily by this virus and you can see quite clearly once the vaccine started rolling out in our industry, the case has dropped dramatically," Roberson said. "Hopefully they will use that as the lesson and go out and get the vaccine."
While visitations are up to care facilities to decide, if a nursing home does allow guests safeguards including the use of face masks are required.
However, personal contact and outdoor visitations are fine, even at locations with COVID-19 outbreaks. Nursing facilities also no longer need to monitor visits or escort visitors.