Florida task force on reopening nursing homes can’t agree on hugging, hand-holding

Task force was supposed to wrap up Tuesday, needs more time

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ task force on safely reopening nursing homes and long-term care facilities on Tuesday agreed on everything except touching: who can and cannot touch their loved ones inside facilities.

The task force includes the secretary for the Agency for Healthcare Administration, the Florida Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes, the Florida Surgeon General and Mary Daniel, a caregiver so desperate to see her husband suffering from Alzheimer’s disease inside a Jacksonville nursing home that she took a job washing dishes.

Task force members agreed to allow in “essential caregivers” -- those who “provide healthcare services and/or assistance with activities of daily living to help maintain or improve the quality of care or quality of life of a facility resident. Care or service provided by the essential caregiver is included in the plan of care or service plan for the resident. Activities of daily living include bathing, dressing and eating.”


Task force members also agreed to allow in “compassionate caregivers” on “on a limited basis as an exception to restricted visitation intended to provide emotional support to help a resident face a hard situation. Examples: End of life, major upset, difficult transition or loss.”

General visitors would be allowed to visit facilities if the facilities adhere to strict requirements:

  • 14 days with no new onset of resident COVID-19 cases
  • No staffing shortages
  • Adequate PPE
  • Adequate cleaning and disinfecting supplies
  • Referral hospitals have capacity
  • Visitors should be 18 years or older
  • Allow residents to designate up to five visitors
  • Facility shall limit the number of visitors per resident to no more than two visitors per visit
  • Facility shall set a limit on the total number of visitors allowed in the facility based on the ability of staff to safely screen and monitor visitation
  • Facility shall limit the length of visits, days, hours, number of visits per week by one visitor
  • Restrict visitation for any resident in isolation for suspected or confirmed COVID within the facility
  • For indoor visitors, facilities can create indoor spaces for residents in a room that is not accessible by other residents, or in the resident’s private room if the resident is bedbound and for health reasons cannot leave their room

But Daniel strongly disagreed with general visitors not being allowed to touch their loved ones.

“No, no, no,” Daniel said. “We need to touch them... hold their hands... please don’t take that away from me.”

Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said the risk of COVID transmission goes up dramatically with touching and lack of social distancing.

"I'm very sympathetic to hugging," Rivkees said. "But mask and distancing are critical elements."

Daniel said human contact with loved ones is essential and that visitors would find a way around it.


“They need to be touched,” Daniel said. “You know what’s going to happen is everyone is going to classify themselves as an essential caregiver. So everyone is going to have to start doing work so they can get up close and personal to them instead of being able to sit in the courtyard and hold their hand.”

Rivkees said he would have to look at the no-touch requirement.

The task force agreed it needs to meet again for at least a half hour. No future meeting date was announced.

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