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COVID trends constant: visitation rules questioned

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For the third week in a row, COVID numbers in Putnam County remained constant without a lot of notable changes. As of Monday, March 15, 1,709 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Putnam County since the start of the pandemic while 51 people have died as a result of the coronavirus and 152 have been hospitalized.

In the state of Georgia on Monday, 866 new cases were reported with 43 new deaths and 22 people admitted to hospitals. Since the start of the pandemic in Georgia, there have been 836, 344 cases with 15,918 deaths and 52,383 patients hospitalized, of which, 9,360 have been placed in ICU wards.

In recent days, President Joe Biden has raised the question of allowing family members easier access to visit loved ones sick with COVID.

According to the Capitol Beat News Service, a Georgia Legislature House bill was approved to okay family visits with COVID. The bill would let some family members visit Georgians in hospitals or nursing homes during health emergencies like coronavirus cleared the state House of Representatives March 8 after an emotional debate. The legislation, which passed 113-57 and now moves to the Georgia Senate, was revised numerous times as it went through the chamber’s Human Relations and Aging Committee to address safety concerns expressed by hospital and nursing home administrators. Under the scaled-back version of the measure the House passed, “legal representatives” designated to make decisions – which could include a family member – would be allowed to visit a hospital patient for up to one hour a day. “Essential caregivers” – which also could include a relative – could visit nursing home residents for up to two hours daily.

Locally, the Eatonton Health and Rehab Center, which has had 10 deaths at the Center due to COVID with 37 positive patients and 15 positive staff, was asked if the new thought processes on family visitation would immediately affect policy at the Center, Amy Abel, the Director of Communications, answered the inquiry by saying:

“As you may be aware, CMS & CDC recently released updated longterm care visitation recommendations and guidance.

While we understand the emotional toll visitation restrictions have had on our patients, their loved ones and our staff, we must remain vigilant and mindful of the following:

• The Governor’s Shelter-in-Place (SIP) Executive Order for medically fragile and elderly Georgians is in effect through March 31, 2021. This order restricts visitation and we must abide by this order.

• We are also required to follow the state’s DPH Long-Term Care Facilities Reopening Guidance. It outlines specific criteria for a phased “reopening”. A copy of the guidance is available on our center website.

• As of this moment, the state guidance is more restrictive as compared to the new federal guidance. When this occurs, we are required to follow the most restrictive regulations and guidelines, which are the Governor’s (SIP) executive order and the state’s DPH LTC Guidance.

As you can see, our center is currently in a challenging position. While we would love to open the doors to everyone, it is our responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of our patients and our staff.

In the meantime, we are preparing for the day when we can safely welcome family members and guests by using this time to get our center ready. In anticipation of the SIP being removed, we would also like to encourage everyone to do their part and to take the necessary precautions to stay well through diligent hand washing, practicing appropriate distancing and, when possible, by getting vaccinated. Together, we will get through this challenging time. We would like to continue to encourage families to share “window visits” with their loved ones at our center, video chats and phone calls.

We appreciate the community’s unwavering support through this rapidly changing situation.”

We will continue to monitor and update this situation as it changes.