Vermont will begin a phased-in approach to allow visitors at senior care facilities and hospitals, with a goal to have policies ready in time for Father's Day.
Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday the phased-in approach, which is still being developed based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines, will involve specific protocols for different types of facilities.
"I realize this step is small," Scott said, acknowledging that visits to the centers will not feel the way they did before the pandemic. "But it's meaningful."
Only two guests can visit, once per day, with appointments, and they must stay outdoors, under the new guidelines.
Visitors have to go through health screenings and wear masks, and no hugs will be allowed. There will be no passing gifts, either—without the facility first sanitizing them.
A full list of guidance for visiting long-term care facilities is available here.
"Allowing in-person, outside visitation will help alleviate some of the loneliness and isolation for long-term care residents," predicted Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.
Hospitals will be able to admit visitors as well. Under state guidelines, most patients for in-patient, acute care and emergency or express care are allowed one visitor at a time. Those in out-patient clinics are not permitted to have visitors. Both measures have certain exceptions for patients who require additional care.
State guidelines are intended as a baseline for hospitals, which are expected to develop individual visitation policies tailored to the needs of each facility and availability of supplies.
Health officials issued guidance for people over the age of 65, who are generally more at risk for complications when contracting coronavirus. Technical guidance for senior centers was issued Wednesday afternoon.
For months, Jeffrey Fontaine of Colchester has been hearing one question from his father: "When are you coming to visit me?"
"Every time, two or three times a conversation," Fontaine said, recounting to NECN and NBC10 Boston how often his dad asks him to visit.
Fontaine said his elderly mom and dad are each in long-term residential care, in two different Vermont facilities.
"Family members have been hoping for something like this," Fontaine said of Wednesday’s announcement from the governor.
More on the Coronavirus in Vermont
Alecia DiMario is the executive director at Birchwood Terrace, a skilled nursing and memory care facility in Burlington that had a coronavirus outbreak this spring.
More than 20 residents died, according to numbers from the Vermont Department of Health.
DiMario said she is glad visits will resume but promised she and her staff will keep a laser focus on preventing the virus from re-entering Birchwood.
"We want to resume some normalcy while maintaining the safety of those who reside here," DiMario told NECN and NBC10 Boston.
Fontaine, whose dad is at Birchwood, said he is so grateful for the help he's gotten since March with making virtual visits. He added that the center's safety pledge is something that his family and others respect deeply.
"We don't want to start something back up in these facilities where it'll spread like wildfire once it’s in," Fontaine said, referring to the need to protect medically-vulnerable seniors from the new coronavirus.
The Vermont Health Department reported a total of 1,130 coronavirus cases Wednesday, which remains unchanged from the day prior.
The number of deaths in Vermont from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has remained steady at 55 since late May. There were two people hospitalized in Vermont with COVID-19 and 10 people hospitalized while under investigation for the disease on Tuesday.
Vermont officials have been monitoring an outbreak in Winooski that has resulted in 83 cases. While the three new cases reported Tuesday were in Chittenden County, where Winooski is located, none of the cases were linked to the outbreak, said Vermont Health Department spokesman Ben Truman.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.