Hawthorne Court

Hawthorne Court assisted living and care center in Ahwatukee is among the many facilities for the elderly that have banned visitors for close to six months.

Arizonans on Monday got the go-ahead to visit their loved ones in  nursing home and assisted living facilities.

AARP hailed the state’s new guidelines, noting long-term care residents “have spent nearly six months alone and isolated from their families, putting their physical and emotional health in peril.”

“It is crucial that facilities clearly communicate these visitation guidelines to families,” AARP State Director Dana Marie Kennedy said, noting her group will continue advocating for more testing in those facilities.

The guidelines require visitors to present a negative COVID-19 test that is less than 48 hours old and sign an attestation they have been isolated since the sample was taken and are free of symptoms. 

The guidelines also require masks, hand-sanitizing before the visit and signing a visitor log each facility must maintain for contact-tracing purposes. 

Forget about holding hands. There is a mandate for six feet between resident and visitors.

There is a second option for anywhere in the state, regardless of how widespread the viral infection. 

Taking the COVID-19 test may be a hurdle. But Kennedy said it’s worth pursuing.

“Let’s face it: In Arizona right now it’s really hot,’’ she said. “So that outdoor visit may not be safe.’’

And there are other advantages.

“If the person lives in a private residence they could actually go into their residence and visit with them for 15 minutes,’’ Kennedy said. “And then they’re supposed to move to a congregate setting after that 15 minutes.’’

But at that point, she said, “they can stay and visit as long as they like.’’

“This was something that was really important to families,’’ said Christina Corieri, the health care policy advisor to Gov. Doug Ducey. “They wanted to be able to see the individual’s personal living space, assess what the situation looks like.’’ 

After getting that look around, family members can continue their visit in whatever area is designated for getting together.

Kennedy pushed for the special task force to create standards for visitation even as the virus remains active in Arizona.

“I never thought we’d be coming at six months,’’ she told Capitol Media Services.

There have been options for maintaining some type of contact, with facilities setting up phone calls and video chats with family. Those lucky enough to have rooms with first-floor windows facing out to the street also had the chance to actually see their relatives, albeit through closed glass.

But there are limits to that.

“People are dying of loneliness and isolation,’’ Kennedy said.

“People with some form of dementia, they may not understand why their loved one is not visiting them,’’ Kennedy explained. 

“Plus, there’s the fact that the shutdown of visits occurred pretty much overnight. “Families didn’t get enough closure to really be able to have that closure, so I think this is really meaningful,’’ she said.

But with no end to the virus in sight – and no clear deadline for when residents and families would be able to see each other again – Kennedy said it became crucial to come up with some interim solution.

What the task force finally came up with isn’t as simple as Kennedy had hoped. She said families will still need to “jump through a few hoops’’ to get visitation.

“But they’re all reasonable requests if you want to see your loved one during the middle of a pandemic,’’ Kennedy said.

Corieri said there are limits.

“You couldn’t necessarily walk in at 1 in the morning,’’ she said. Corieri said facilities can limit not only the times visits will be allowed but also how long they can last and how many people can visit on any given day.

And even in cases where the visitor produces a negative test result for COVID-19, Corieri said there is still a requirement for “minimal contact.’’

That still leaves the question of being able to get test results back within 48 hours.

Corieri said Sonora Quest says it can get results turned around within 24 hours. Ditto, she said, at Arizona State University which is offering saliva tests, somewhat easier on patients than the long cotton-tipped swab up the nose.

The University of Arizona said there are tests available for antibodies. But these are being promoted for healthcare workers, first responders and other employees considered at high risk for exposure to the virus.

And if it turns out that requirement is too aggressive, Corieri said the task force still remains active and can consider modifications.

“We think that these guidelines offer a safe way to reopen visitation in these facilities while still protecting the residents, and reuniting these families who we know that personal contact is so important to,’’ Corieri said.

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