Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday made a now familiar case that he is protecting the most vulnerable in the state’s ongoing battle with COVID-19. But he also tried to pave a path to resume visitation.
The Governor was in Jacksonville at the local Eldersource, joined at a roundtable discussion by First Lady Casey DeSantis, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew, and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom.
As was the case with a roundtable in the spring before the Governor allowed barbershops to reopen, there was no big news, but a pathway to policy change was laid forth.
“Any family member who has COVID antibodies should be allowed to visit the facilities,” DeSantis said. “I would be comfortable saying that if you have those antibodies, you should be able to visit your family member.”
While there is some evidence those antibodies may fade, the Governor takes a more optimistic view.
To underscore the emotional appeal, the Governor also had Mary Daniel on hand.
Daniel, a lady who had taken a dishwashing job to see her institutionalized husband, was on hand, making the point about how difficult the last four months have been.
Daniel’s case has resonated nationally as an example of the sacrifices people have made in these unprecedented times, and the DeSantis administration spotlighted her at the Jacksonville event.
A new task force addressing the visitation issue, on which Daniels will be empaneled, will “put out a roadmap” for reuniting families even amidst the pandemic.
Among potential ideas Daniel championed: a “designated caregiver” to visit the patient, or outdoor visits with or without PPE and distancing.
DeSantis has said for months, almost since imposing the ban in March, that he wanted to open visitation again, but the virus concerns have compelled him to maintain restrictions in order to protect vulnerable residents.
The Governor explored a “pathway” to resume visitation, but by late June “increased prevalence put those plans aside.”
“I think that 4 1/2 months is a long time,” DeSantis said. “A lot of the family members understand these are difficult circumstances … but a way forward would put people at ease, as kind of light at the end of the tunnel.”
“You have people who end up in the hospital and for months … even in their dying days … they were not allowed to have family members visit them,” DeSantis said. “To not be there, be able to be there, really leaves a mark.”
“It’s not just people with coronavirus we’re talking about … this has a broad impact,” the Governor said. “We’ve got to figure out a way … to address some of the serious emotional damage done by our countermeasures to the virus.”
As the roundtable progressed, Prudom described how the state is filling the gap, saying seniors are getting “virtual hugs” via tablets. His spiel didn’t mollify Daniel.
“I love all of these ideas but our goal is to get to the real thing. I love the virtual hug but I want a real one. My goal is to safely and as quickly as possible with the right guidelines get us back to our families,” she added.