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Trying to overcome the isolation “divide:” Experts weigh in on letters to care centers

“It still is a shock. And it’s still very hard to know that you won’t be seeing your loved one.”

MINNEAPOLIS — Families everywhere are experiencing the separation from loved ones living in care centers and nursing homes.

And once again, KARE 11’s Karla Hult knows a bit about what they’re feeling. After all, her Uncle Bill – her dad’s twin brother – is also battling Alzheimer’s in a memory care center.

“Cousin Lisa, how are you doing right now,” Hult asked her cousin, Lisa Hamburger, Bill’s daughter, on Monday afternoon.

“It still is a shock. And it’s still very hard to know that you won’t be seeing your loved one,” Lisa said, referring to the new mandate not to visit her dad’s facility.

What makes it worse, according to families, is that loved ones battling Alzheimer’s or another dementia simply can’t understand why families have stopped visiting. And those with the disease also can’t carry a conversation on the phone or through a screen.

“I cried. It’s sad, because I’m going to miss him,” Lisa said, adding, “He just seems happier and more at peace when there’s family members there, next to him, visiting him.”

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Experts weigh in: what about letters and other outreach?

“Understanding their policies and procedures is really important for family members and loved ones,” said Leslie Lovett with the Infectious Disease Division at the Minnesota Department of Health about care centers throughout the state.

Lovett notes that senior care communities have been asked to follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/healthcare-facilities/prevent-spread-in-long-term-care-facilities.html. But those guidelines do not explicitly address whether letters or packages should still be sent to care centers.

“We haven’t focused on the mail as a primary mechanism of how the disease is transmitted,” Lovett said, noting that at this point, neither the CDC nor MDH have traced any COVID-19 cases to the handling of mail.

It’s also not clear, Lovett said, whether studies have specifically addressed whether letters could be a possible vehicle for the virus. But Lovett notes health officials are trying to balance mental health challenges with physical health risks. Given that, they say those who write letters should also encourage handwashing by both the sender and recipient.

“Keeping in touch is so, so important during this time,” Lovett said, adding, “So the best thing people can do after touching any surface, including mail, is to wash their hands afterwards.”

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Back to the families

Faced with that uncertainty, families are mostly left to hope that care center staff can effectively care for their senior community.

“God bless the workers who work there and take care of people like my dad. They are very compassionate and hard-working people,” Lisa said.

And while Lisa joins those who support the precautions, she also struggles with the new normal. As with many families, she looks forward to the day the precautions are no longer necessary.

“I know they feel better when loved ones are around. It’s just sad to know there won’t be family members in the next few weeks,” she reflected.

More information about the symptoms of COVID-19 can be found on MDH’s Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website, as well as additional information about how to protect yourself and your community.

MDH has set up a coronavirus hotline at 651-201-3920. People can call and ask questions 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and keep tabs on the cases around the world here. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here.

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