TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey nursing homes are now preparing for the new COVID-19 vaccine, but residents’ families have plenty of questions.

It’s emotional for Mary Conroy to talk about her grandfather-in-law, George Swithers.

“George, he turned 95 in May,” Conroy said.

He went into an assisted living facility right before the pandemic hit. Family celebrated his birthday through a window.

“At least we get to see him a little bit, but it’s very tough,” Conroy said.


Nursing home residents and employees will be some of the first to be vaccinated.

“They are older, they are very vulnerable and immunizing these individuals … will not only protect them, it will also save resources at hospitals,” said Stuart Shapiro, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey.

Many are hoping with a vaccine coming, visitation restrictions will be lifted, but health experts say unfortunately, that will not happen for many months because there are still so many unknowns, such as if vaccinated people can still carry and transmit, and then sheer numbers of contacts.

“If we were to allow all of their family members and friends and guests to come in, it still is going to increase the potential spread,” said Robert Hawkes, physician assistant and professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“This is a very complicated situation,” said Dr. Stephen Crystal, of Rutgers University. “The thing we have to be careful about is an assumption that because we’ve gone in and vaccinated … that everybody is safe.”

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CBS2’s Meg Baker spoke with Alise Bartley, a family counselor and professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, and asked for her advice for those trying to stay close with family members in nursing homes during the holidays.

“The most important thing we need to do is to be certain that we are developing those relationships with the support staff,” Bartley said.

That way, they will reach out with status information on your loved one.

Additionally, some facilities, if they have enough staff, offer assistance with virtual visits via FaceTime or Zoom.