Thanksgiving During COVID-19: How to Include Loved Ones Living in Long-Term Care

The Connecticut Department of Public Health and the state's Long-Term Care Ombudsman sent a letter to residents and families ranking Thanksgiving activities from low risk to high risk.

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With the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaching, the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the state's Long-Term Care Ombudsman are reminding families with loved ones in long-term care facilities of current restrictions and highlighting the risks associated with celebrating Thanksgiving during the pandemic.

In a letter sent to residents and family members, the LTC and the DPH emphasized the toll isolation caused by visitor restrictions has taken on residents.

"Throughout this pandemic, our long-term care residents have been the most impacted both by the virus and the restrictions necessary to prevent further spread of the virus," the letter said. "Connecticut’s long-term care residents remain a priority and our state health officials would like to offer the following considerations when planning celebrations with loved ones who live in long-term care communities."

According to current guidance from the federal government, nursing homes that are free of positive COVID-19 cases for the previous 14 days are directed to be open for in-person visitation with residents. However, the letter explains, Connecticut is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases, "and this could increase the risk that in-person visitation poses to residents and staff."

The letter shared the following examples of celebrating with loved ones in long-term care facilities:

  • Low risk: Celebrate virtually with your loved one using methods such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Google Duo. You can also drop off a meal for them to enjoy.
  • Low-medium risk: Visit your loved one at their residence. Bring a favorite Thanksgiving food or a holiday treat that meet individualized needs while, following safety guidelines including mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing. The risk level of a visit to the facility or residence depends on the number of visitors and the potential exposure to COVID-19 that any of the visitors may have had.
  • Medium-high risk: Bring your loved one home to celebrate with just your household, following safety guidelines including mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces. For two weeks prior to your holiday gatherings, limit exposure to COVID19 by avoiding indoor settings with people you don’t live with where you cannot socially distance or wear a mask (e.g., indoor social events, restaurants, carpooling). Before removing your loved one, you should understand that they may need to quarantine for 14 days upon their return.
  • Very high risk: Bring your loved one home to celebrate with multiple households, and/or not following social distancing, hand-washing, cleaning, or mask guidance.

Visitor restrictions vary across the state based on case numbers and the percentage of community spread.

The long-term care ombudsman purchased projectors to hand out to facilities across Connecticut. She is hoping they will make virtual visits appear more life-sized.

Any families with feedback or creative ideas to stay connected during the holidays are asked to reach out to the Ombudsman Program at 1-866-388-1888.

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