EDITORIAL: New hope

Opening of nursing homes good news amid pandemic

Some of best news regarding efforts to surmount the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic comes in the partial opening of nursing homes and other longterm care facilities, albeit with severe restrictions.

The cautious reopening of the centers raises hopes that the threat might be falling for some of our most at-risk residents, and that much of the general population soon might be out of danger as well.

Family members and other non-emergency visitors can begin seeing residents on the grounds of nursing homes that have reported no cases of COVID-19 for at least two weeks, and as long as there is no physical contact between residents and visitors. Residents at assistedliving facilities can see people indoors, but must be protected by clear plastic screens and other measures.

Texas health officials on Aug. 6 reopened the facilities, which Gov. Greg Abbott had ordered closed to all visitors five months ago.

And with good reason: America’s elderly population has been among the hardest hit by the viral outbreak. Many of the cases, and deaths, attributed to the coronavirus in the Rio Grande Valley have been at nursing homes. More than three-fourths of Texas’ nursing homes have faced coronavirus outbreaks, and the virus has proved especially fatal for older people. Residents of nursing homes and assistedliving centers make up more than one-third of our state’s total deaths from COVID-19.

In response, the governor closed the facilities to all visitors in mid-March. Testing of residents and staff was ordered every two weeks. In the Valley, which was especially hard hit, National Guard personnel were sent to clean and disinfect the facilities, hoping to kill any lingering presence of the virus on furniture, equipment and other surfaces.

At the time the reopening was announced, about half of our state’s facilities still reported some presence of the virus, but the reduction in the number and severity of the cases gave state officials confidence to begin reopening the doors.

We hope their optimism is rewarded, and that the precautions that go with it are effective.

The ability to receive visitors will help residents immensely. It’s no secret that a person’s emotional condition affects one’s health, and many people could improve if they can see loved ones again.

No matter how good a facility might be, some residents find it hard to adjust to the loss of independence that comes with residence in such a facility — especially if they were the matriarch or patron of a large family. And despite the constant monitoring by healthcare professionals, some might feel abandoned if they can’t see family members for a long time.

After five months, we’re sure nursing home residents would love to see visitors. People who plan to make such a visit — and we hope they do — should take whatever precautions they can to ensure that a new outbreak doesn’t occur. By now we all should know those precautions: wear masks, limit our exposure to other people and maintain a safe distance. Let us welcome the reopening of such facilities with a commitment to visit our friends there — while making sure that they remain safe.