By Lisa Rozner

LIVINGSTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey families who have relatives in long-term care facilities have a chilling plea.

With vaccinations underway, they’re asking the governor to loosen visitation restrictions for fear isolation will kill their loved ones before COVID does.

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Hundreds of signs that read “Isolation kills, too” fill Jill Cohen’s Livingston lawn.

She says in the last year since lockdown began, she’s watched her 82-year-old mom, Norma, who has Alzheimer’s, suffer cognitively and physically.

Once a week, Cohen is allowed to visit her mother for two hours, most of the time consoling her.

“And you know I’ll always be with you, right? Every step of the way,” she tells her mom in a video.

“We’ve been vaccinated. They’ve been vaccinated. It’s been one year, two shots. And now what? What are we gonna do now? We don’t have time on our side anymore,” Cohen told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

It’s a message from a group called FACE for Seniors, standing for Family Advocate Care Experience.

Randolph resident Ginger Vukas last saw her 84-year-old mom, Virginia, through a window in December.

“I want to get back into the facility while my mom still knows who I am, and I wake up every day afraid that she won’t,” Vukas said.

The New Jersey Department of Health is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which don’t take vaccinations into account.

For visits to occur, there has to be a low number of cases in the county and the facility has to show it has not had a COVID case in two weeks.

Bill Borrelle is the founder of FACE for Seniors. He says window visits and Facetime calls aren’t helping his 94-year-old mother, Rose, who is hard of heaering and legally blind.

“We had many, many layers of protection to keep them safe, but the most important thing that we don’t have is the ability to be with them in their room and take care of them,” he said. “My mother’s vaccinated. She’ll wear PPE. I wear PPE.”

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COVID VACCINE

The “Isolation kills, too” signs will be moved throughout the state over the next week to send a message, asking the governor and the Department of Health for a post-vaccine visitation directive.

“She basically just lays in her bed all day,” Vukas said. “Most of all I want to hug her and kiss her and tell her how much I love her.”

The Department of Health says indoor visitation is open in 10 of its 21 counties.

In response to the group’s request, a spokesperson acknowledges the emotional distress, but says, “There are currently 309 active COVID-19 outbreaks among our long term care facilities and virus variants circulating.”

The department urges all to remain patient, but these families say their patience has already run thin.

The New Jersey Department of Health sent CBS2 the following information —

The NJ Department of Health’s Executive Directive 20-026 for the Resumption of Services in Long Term Care Facilities provides for outdoor, compassionate care, essential caregiver, and end-of-life visitation that is permitted in any reopening phase. The Department has not changed its visitation guidance at this time.

Indoor visitation is now open in facilities in 10 counties that have met the Department’s requirements. Those counties are Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Salem and Somerset counties.

The chart in this press release that sets up the color-coded system used to determine level of COVID-19 activity in a region — low, moderate or high. It looks at several factors including the level of COVID circulating in the county and the positivity level of county residents testing positive for the virus.

A facility can resume indoor visitation if the CALI score for that region has been in the moderate/lower level of activity for at least two weeks,  and if it can attest that it has met the following Department requirements:

  • after no new cases have been detected in the last two weeks in accordance with CDC guidance
  • the facility is not conducting outbreak testing
  • facility has sufficient PPE and cleaning and disinfection supplies to permit visitation
  • has a mechanism to collect informed consent from residents and visitors.

Regarding the request from FACE For Seniors, a DOH spokesperson says —

“We must continue to be cautious – there are currently 309 active COVID-19 outbreaks among our long term care facilities and virus variants circulating in the community that threaten the health of vulnerable residents and staff. However, the Department of Health acknowledges the emotional distress caused by isolation-which also causes us concern for the health and quality of life of residents in our long-term care facilities. For this reason, we have directed all facilities to permit compassionate care, essential caregiver, outdoor, and end-of-life visitation in every phase of our directive. The COVID-19 vaccine gives us hope for the future where we can reunite with our loved ones, but until then our facilities should be doing all they can to balance the risk of infection with the threat of isolation-and follow our directives to permit visitation in all applicable circumstances. We all must remain both patient and vigilant.”

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CBS2 reached out to the CDC for comment. A spokesperson said they would get back to us Friday.