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CDPHE: Low vax rates among staff, need for federal guidance hampering visits at care facilities

"When can we be together again?" asks woman
colorado long term care facility
Posted at 5:55 PM, Feb 01, 2021

DENVER — Gretchen Samuels has no regrets about the life she and her husband Mike built together.

"We had a wonderful life," she said. "In August of 2017, we got the diagnosis that he had Frontotemporal dementia. So that kind of changed everything."

In November 2019, Mike Samuels entered a memory care facility just before the pandemic. Since then, the two have endured outdoor visits only, or indoor visits from a distance.

"Not being able to go in and touch him or hug him or spend any kind of real time with him has just been heartbreaking," said Samuels, citing studies that show dementia patients benefit from physical touch. "His decline has been 100% worse."

For so many separated from their loved ones, the vaccine seemed the only way out. But now, those first to be vaccinated remain in isolation.

"He's getting a second vaccine tomorrow," said Gretchen Samuels. "When do we get to go? When do we get to be with them? I want to be able to hug him, sit in bed with him and watch TV. Just talk to him. Touch him, is what I want to be able to do."

In a news conference Monday, CDPHE officials said federal guidance still has not been issued about post-vaccine visitation.

COVID in Colorado: Feb. 1, 2021 update

"Probably within the next two weeks, I imagine we'll hear more from CMS and the CDC," said Eric France, CDPHE's Chief Medical Officer. "I think, in general, of course we agree once you have had two doses, and it's been two weeks after your second dose, the vaccine is very effective and visitation should be encouraged in a safe way."

For Gretchen, weeks of waiting is precious time with her husband that she will never get back.

"Because my husband is dying, every day that I lose is a day that I won't have with him here," she said. "I know we want to keep people safe, but honestly, quality of life versus quantity of life is really important too."

CDPHE says that another challenge is that staff at care facilities have a relatively low rate of vaccination and are refusing the vaccine, which could be a barrier to lifting visitation restrictions.

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