As her son hugged her for the first time in a year, an 88-year-old woman in Ohio burst into tears. Residents and staff at a California nursing home sang “Over the Rainbow” as they resumed group activities and welcomed visitors. In Rhode Island, a 5-year-old dove into the lap of her 94-year-old great-great-aunt for a long embrace.
Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other types of elderly residences that have been hit by COVID-19 are loosening restrictions and opening their doors for the first time since the outbreak, resulting in joyful reunions across the country after a year of isolation, Zoom calls, and greetings through windows.
Reunions have been made possible thanks to a vaccination campaign, improved conditions in nursing homes, and looser federal regulations.
In recent days, there have been welcome-back parties, birthday celebrations, coffee hours on the patio, and other events that have given older Americans and their families a taste of what life might be like in a post-vaccine world.
Gloria Winston, a 94-year-old retirement community resident in Providence, Rhode Island, said, “This is the beginning of the very best to come, hopefully for all of us.” “The world is on its way to becoming a better place. We require each other’s nourishment.”
Families who have been waiting for years say the reopenings are long overdue. Since they were among the first to be vaccinated in the nationwide rollout, most elderly care residents and many staff members have been fully inoculated for weeks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.4 million residents and 1 million staff members in long-term care facilities are fully vaccinated.
The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the facilities has also decreased, according to the CDC, from more than 30,000 cases and 7,000 deaths among residents in one week in December to less than 1,300 cases and 500 deaths in all of last week.
(Overall, the death toll in the United States has surpassed 540,000; daily deaths have fallen to an all-time low of 1,000, down from an all-time high of over 3,400 in mid-January and the lowest level since early November; new cases are running at a still-worrisome average of about 54,000 per day, down from a quarter-million per day in early January.)
In light of the improving situation, federal regulators recommended earlier this month that long-term care facilities allow indoor visits at all times.
In nursing homes and other institutions, COVID-19 had a terrifying impact. According to government data, long-term care residents were responsible for more than 130,000 deaths and 640,000 cases during the pandemic. A total of 1,600 deaths and over 550,000 cases were attributed to staff members.
Last week, the three exchanged hugs before Cordelia Cappelano, Winston’s great-great-niece, shyly buried her head in her mother’s body.
Winston teased, “I think I’ve had better hugs in my day.” “It’s as if we’re no longer family.”
Cordelia warmed up after nearly two hours of playing and catching up. Before she left, she jumped into Winston’s lap for one last embrace.
Winston’s great-niece, Wensday Greenbaum, said, “To be able to be this close and have Cordelia melt around her has just been wonderful.” “It’s just a way of letting go of all the anxiety and sadness that comes with being alone. This is one step closer to normalcy after a difficult year.”
Celia Olson sat on the patio of the Chaparral House in Berkeley with her 92-year-old mother, Connie, last week. It was their second meeting since visits to the nursing home were resumed recently.
Connie Olson said, as her daughter draped a blanket over her, “This is really nice.”
Celia Olson, a 65-year-old veterinarian, has only been able to see her mother through a window or via Skype for the past year. Both of them have now been vaccinated.
Celia Olson said, “It’s been a year of everyone just being traumatized and trying to figure out how to navigate through the coronavirus situation.”