For many in long-term care, the COVID-19 vaccine is seen as a light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s still not clear how long it will be before visitation policies at facilities can return to normal.

What You Need To Know

“We thought she would get the vaccine and within a couple of months, things would go back to normal,” said Michelle Vanderwall, whose 84-year-old mother is in a Florida nursing home. 

But Vanderwall said facility administrators let her know that wouldn’t be happening anytime soon. Her disappointment is shared by many, including those who reached out to Spectrum News for answers.

We checked in with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services to find out if any new visitation guidance is being planned.

“The agency is encouraged that the vaccine will lead to increased visitation over time and will issue new guidance as needed,” CMS spokesperson Tony Salters said.

The Florida Department of Health and the Florida Division of Emergency Management responded as well.

“The state continually monitors and analyzes the situation in long-term care facilities across the state. At this time, we remain focused on providing vaccines for staff and residents at these facilities,” Communications Director Jason Mahon said. “Any future changes to visitation policies will be publicly announced and made through existing emergency rules.”

Neither agency provided information on what criteria would have to be met to completely lift the current lockdown. However, USF virologist Dr. Michael Teng explains the possible science behind waiting to do so.

“What we do know about the vaccines is they are very effective preventing symptomatic COVID, but we don’t know whether they prevent transmission,” Dr. Teng said.

That meaning people visiting facilities may still be able to bring the virus in and out of a long-term care facility, regardless of whether or not residents and staff are vaccinated.  As a result, Dr. Teng said vaccinations must be widespread in the community before facilities can completely reopen – something he doesn’t see happening until the fall.

For Vanderwall, that’s too long of a wait. She tells Spectrum News her family made the tough decision to finally bring her mother home.

“This is killing her,” Vanderwall said. “My sister and I, after a lot of talking and a lot of praying, we decided we were going to bring her home.”