A woman in personal protective equipment walks in to Prestige Senior Living Orchard Heights on May 15, 2020. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Since the Covid pandemic hit, Judie Wilson only sees her family through a screen. 

Wilson, a 75-year-old resident of Meadow Creek Village Assisted Living, said that before the pandemic hit her two daughters would regularly pick her up for a trip to the grocery store and a Chile Relleno lunch 

But being at risk of having a severe reaction to the virus means she’s had to isolate herself from loved ones and uses video chat programs such as Skype or FaceTime to keep in touch. She said her daughters check in on her to ask about her day. 

“If I didn’t have that I’d be crazy,” she said. 

Now Oregonians can again begin visiting their loved ones in long-term care facilities that meet certain safety precautions. 

In February, the Oregon Department of Human Services restricted visitations at long-term care facilities because of the risk Covid poses to its medically vulnerable residents. The Oregon Department of Human Services has begun allowing visitations at nursing, assisted living, residential and memory care facilities as well as all adult foster homes that meet new safety requirements. 

“We hope this policy provides some relief to residents, their family members and friends who we know have suffered extreme hardship as a result of visitation restrictions required during the pandemic,” said Mike McCormick, interim director of the DHS Office of Aging and People with Disabilities, in a statement announcing the policy. 

Under the department’s policy, released earlier this month, facilities that currently have Covid cases or suspected cases may not offer visitations until those sick are symptom-free. Visitors must be screened for symptoms and sanitize their hands. Both the visitor and the resident must wear a face-covering during the visit, with some exceptions made for residents with underlying medical conditions. 

Visits must occur outdoors, where the transmission of the virus is less likely. Social distancing measures must also be in place, including placing chairs at least six feet apart. Visitation areas must also be cleaned.

The pandemic has been devastating to long-term care facilities. According to the Oregon Health Authority’s most recent weekly Covid report, there have been 150 deaths at these facilities. 

Currently, there are five active outbreaks at long-term care facilities, senior living communities and congregate care settings in Marion County, according to the report. In Polk County Capital Manor, a retirement community in west Salem has an active outbreak.  

Prestige Care, the company that runs Prestige Senior Living Orchard Heights in west Salem, has resolved its outbreak that saw 55 cases and 11 deaths. 

The company said in a statement that it’s working closely with the Oregon Department of Human Services to allow visitation at its facilities. The company didn’t say when it would allow visitations but said they’ll be in the “near future.” The outbreak was first reported on April 30 and there have been 55 cases and 11 deaths total, according to the Oregon Health Authority report. 

“We will continue to update our Prestige community members of any updates to our policies directly,” the company said. “In the meantime, we remain vigilant in our efforts to limit the spread of this virus throughout our organization and continue to work in lockstep with local, state and federal health officials to protect the health and well-being of those in our care.”

A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Human Services didn’t immediately have numbers for how many long-term care facilities are in the Salem area. However, the department’s website shows there are hundreds within 20 miles of Salem that range from just a few beds to large facilities. 

Other long-term care facilities are also preparing to allow visitation. Lancaster Village, an assisted-living facility located at 4156 Market St N.E., has already begun allowing daily visitation. The company said in an email that it’s following regulations and has also put in a plexiglass partition to accommodate residents who cannot wear masks.

“(It) just takes more diligence in making sure we sanitize after visits and making sure that everyone is following procedures,” the company said in an email. 

Sue Miller, executive director of Meadow Creek Village Assisted Living, said that the facility requires families wanting to visit to call the front desk to schedule a 45-minute visitation. The facility, located at 3988 12th Street Cutoff S.E., only takes two families at a time and must pass a screening protocol. 

During the pandemic, Wilson said she’s been getting a little stir crazy, but keeps busy by quilting and making a veil for a granddaughter who is getting married. 

But for now, she has no plans to have an in-person visitation even though they’re allowed. 

“It’s not like I can give them a big hug,” she said. “So why do it?”

However, Wilson said that the visitations will be helpful to residents who might not be as computer-savvy. 

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Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.