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'Let's find a compromise': Nursing home visits could resume soon, but families want a safe option

Anyone who is approved for a visit would have to test negative for COVID-19 and wear PPE inside the building.

TAMPA, Fla. — Nursing homes across Florida have been closed to visitors since March, but that could change. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis held a round table where he discussed several options to let families see their loved ones again. 

"I would be comfortable saying if you do have those COVID-19 antibodies, that you should be able to go in and see your family member," DeSantis said.

But doctors say procedures will have to be in place to do so safely. The governor is looking into rapid tests to detect the virus and those who have antibodies. Anyone who is approved for a visit will have to be negative and wear PPE inside the building.

"I would say you need to do all those things. Take care, have your own social distancing, have your own small circle, make sure you don't get infected. You have to make sure your chances are really, really low before you go ahead and take that risk to expose others in that environment to the virus," Dr. Jill Roberts with USF Public Health said.

Families in the Tampa Bay area agree. They're fighting to see their loved ones again after seeing them virtually for months.

"I know we're we're talking a lot about trying to get visitation for families and I think that's important because I know that my mother would do better if I were in the room with her than on a tablet. But I also am terrified to just allow people into nursing homes because of the virus. Let's find a way to do this carefully. Let's find a way to do this safely," Davonne Irian said.

Irian lost her father to COVID-19. Her mother has been in a nursing home in isolation for months. 

"I'm all for getting rapid testing in place, but let's have limitations. Let's have some family visits. Let's have people able to check on your loved ones and see what's going on," Irian said.

   

Infectious disease experts say DeSantis' plan could work if proper precautions are in place. Their only concern is the accuracy of the rapid tests.

"When it tells you it's positive, it's really positive, but when it tells you it's negative, there's about a 15 percent chance you're actually positive. We're going to need to be really careful and each person is going to have to assess their own risk, and the nursing homes will have to actively assess the risk as well," Roberts said.

There's still no timeline for when visitations could start again. Roberts says nursing homes in counties with low infection rates have a better chance of letting visitors back in their facilities whenever the decision is made.

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