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Hugs are welcome again at Hawaii’s nursing homes

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                                Fully vaccinated Kalakaua Gardens residents can be in close contact with family members but must wear a face mask and wash their hands before and after visits.


    Fully vaccinated Kalakaua Gardens residents can be in close contact with family members but must wear a face mask and wash their hands before and after visits.

After yearlong visitor restrictions, Hawaii’s nursing homes and senior-living facilities are reopening to family and friends as they complete COVID-19 vaccinations for residents and staff.

One such facility, Kala­kaua Gardens, is “opening its doors so that its residents and their family members can visit each other again — up close and in person,” welcoming “hugs from family members” indoors and allowing nonessential visits outdoors starting this week.

“This is a major step toward restoring a sense of normalcy for our kupuna,” Joel Guron, executive director of the 228-bed senior-living community, said in a news release. “With virtually all of our residents and staff vaccinated, we’re beginning to ease some of our COVID restrictions, while carefully following the federal, state and county guidance to celebrate this milestone of being able to safely gather and hug each other again.”

With senior populations and congregate living arrangements, nursing homes across the nation have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. There have been 66 deaths and 478 infections among residents and staff in Hawaii facilities, according to the AARP Nursing Home Dashboard.

Patrick Harrison, senior director of post-acute care at the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, representing the state’s nursing homes and assisted-living providers, said the facilities are revising visitor policies based on federal guidelines and cautiously reopening after significant declines in nursing home infections.

“They have observed that the vaccines are effective in helping to prevent symptomatic infections associated with the COVID-19 virus. In Hawaii many of our facilities have completed vaccinating residents and staff or are close to completing the process,” he said.

In early February a survey of long-term care and assisted-living facilities showed that an average of about 78% of staff had received one or more doses, along with roughly 90% of residents.

As of Monday, Walgreens had administered 10,458 doses at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, while CVS completed 14,975 vaccinations as of Tuesday.

But new variants pose a threat with the reopenings, and visitors will still have to follow safety precautions, including mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand-washing, although they are not required to be immunized or tested for the coronavirus for entry.

Fully vaccinated Kalakaua Gardens residents are allowed to be in close contact with their family members as long as they are wearing a face mask and wash their hands before and after each visit. The facility is also allowing residents to go out for meals or nonessential appointments with family members, but they must return within 24 hours or quarantine for 14 days.

The Arcadia Family of Cos. is taking a “gradual, cautious and conservative approach to reopening,” with outdoor visitation areas on the lanai of the health care center and in the gardens for independent- and assisted-living residents, said President and CEO Suzie Schulberg.

“We serve the most vulnerable population that this pandemic has affected,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID data tracker reported 621,720 vaccine doses administered in Hawaii, at a rate of 43,911 doses per 100,000 residents, including vaccinations by the military and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Health officials recorded 41 new coronavirus infections as of Sunday, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 28,892 cases. The statewide death toll remains at 454 with no new coronavirus deaths reported.

Meanwhile, the state has opened a new service to help seniors register for vaccines, as well as transportation. To access the “Kupuna Call Center” seven days a week, call 211. In addition, Times Pharmacy will administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine every Thursday through April 15 at the Mili­lani Town Association Recreation Center No. 5.

“It’s also important to remember vaccination does not guarantee that people will be free from disease. Outdoor visitation is still strongly preferred at this time. While we do have very high vaccination rates in Hawaii, it’s still important to protect those who are not vaccinated,” Harrison said. “Our members certainly recognize the need here to reengage residents with their loved ones. (The pandemic) certainly has taken its toll. This is a very important milestone.”

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