The pandemic's impact on nursing homes has been especially hard from the start -- not just the loss of lives, but also on families not being able to visit loved ones in person.
But prevention measures and vaccines are improving the situation, and North Carolina now says it's ok for many nursing homes to resume indoor visits.
Residents and staff of long-term care facilities, like Silver Bluff Village near Canton, were among the first to get the COVID-19 vaccines.
Now, cases are down so much, indoor visitations are now allowed for the first time in a year.
“We’ve gone more than 28 days without any cases,” said Silver Bluff Village Director Lisa Leatherwood.
“81% of our staff has been vaccinated and close to 90% of our residents,” she said.
State health officials say case rates in skilled nursing and adult care facilities across North Carolina are down 15-fold since the peak in January, which is enough to allow indoor visits, but still with social distancing and mask wearing.
“It's going well,” said Leatherwood, who says residents and families are excited.
“The families have to make an appointment because we have to screen them, and we have to supervise the visit," she said. "We have a full-time person dedicated to doing visits because we want folks to be able to come in whenever they're available to visit."
At Autumn Care of Waynesville, Tammy Remlinger had just finished up an in-person visit Thursday, March 4, with her mother for the first time in a long time.
“She's doing good,” Remlinger said. “We could talk to her on the phone, but we couldn't come anywhere around to see her, you know, for about almost 6 months.”
But now, she’s allowed at least in the same room.
“Oh man, she wants to hug us, you know,” Remlinger said.
It’s a combination of joy and frustration.
“We were that close and couldn't hug her," she said.
Remlinger said with vaccines now available to the masses and Spring coming, she at least feels a sense of hope that things will soon open up even more.
“It has to. It has to,” Remlinger said.
“We're just hopeful as more people get vaccinated, we can continue to decrease the restrictions for our residents,” Leatherwood said.
She said for some of her residents, it will take a little teaching.
“Some are hopeful, but they've been isolated so long they've kind of forgotten how to socialize," she added.
Leatherwood says they've had federal grant money to create outdoor visitation spots and now they will be able to create those spots as well.