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COVID rule keeps Wilson woman, her 93-year-old aunt apart

New York State will provide rapid testing to make nursing home visitation easier, but a rule requiring 14 days of no new COVID cases remains in place.

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — Diane Johnson of Wilson says she misses her three-times-a-week outings with her best friend, who happens to be her 93-year-old aunt.

Johnson says when she pulled up at Lockport’s Heritage Manor assisted living in her white Ram pick-up truck, her aunt would “just jump up inside that cab and laugh from the minute we got in the truck until the minute we came back.”

Those days were filled with shopping trips, salon visits and several meals punctuated with laughter. (2 On Your Side is not disclosing the aunt’s name at Johnson’s request.)

But Johnson’s last visit with her aunt was in November, before Thanksgiving.

There are a number of state government has put in place for visitation at nursing facilities.

Visitors have to be at least 18 years old. A resident can have a maximum of two visitors at a time. And visitors must supply proof of a negative COVID test with seven days of the scheduled visit.

That last rule changed Friday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state health department would distribute rapid COVID test technology to every nursing facility in the state.

“This is going to be a very big deal for nursing home residents and families,” the governor said.

Now visitors do not have to seek a pre-visit test. They will be tested right at the nursing facility, just before their visit.

While that will be helpful, it does not remove the biggest hurdle between Johnson and her aunt.  

A state health department official says remaining in place is a rule that bars visitors to nursing facilities if they have not had 14 consecutive days without a new COVID case. The official says that is the guidance the agency gets from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s been the issue at Heritage Manor. Amy Cavalier, a spokeswoman for the facility tells 2 On Your Side, “When lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are identified, visitation, communal activities and dining are stopped for a 14-day period and residents are encouraged to remain in their rooms for their safety and well-being. If additional cases are identified, a new 14-day period begins when the new case is identified.”

The regular occurrences of new COVID cases at the facility have interrupted Johnson’s visits with her aunt for three-plus months.

Johnson praises Heritage Manor, says the staff and administration have been wonderful to her aunt.

Still, in recent phone calls and Facetime visits, Johnson believes there is a decline in her aunt’s spirits, “I’m always a little distressed about her lack of an ability to get out.”