JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — Many nursing homes are no longer allowed to welcome visitors because of growing COVID-19 cases. That includes facilities in at least 12 East Tennessee counties that are above the threshold, outlined by the Tennessee Department of Health.
It's a strain on nursing home staff, residents and family members.
Across the street from Jefferson Park at Dandridge is as close as Jerry Loveday can get to his 75-year-old sister Virginia Galyon.
"It's been tough," Loveday nodded.
Galyon has Dementia and Alzheimer's and has lived in the Dandridge nursing home for three years. The last four and a half months without seeing each other is a big change for the siblings.
"I visited at least 4 to 5 times a week, sometimes every day, and when that stops abruptly, it changes the routine," Loveday explained.
Loveday's brother James moved into the facility at the beginning of the pandemic. He died last week from conditions unrelated to COVID-19.
"He really felt that his family had just dropped him off and left him," Loveday admitted.
In June, when COVID-19 cases were down the three siblings got to meet in visitation booths outside. Loveday said it was difficult to explain to both of them why they couldn't hug or get into booths together.
"My sister and brother both made me promise that I would take care of them," Loveday admitted.
Now, his hands are tied and the rise in COVID-19 cases put an end to those special sit downs. He settles for phone calls and FaceTimes from his sister.
Last week, the state reported eight employees and eight residents tested positive for coronavirus at the Jefferson Park nursing home.
"The good thing is with this facility, they have been really good to reach out and keep family informed," Loveday assured.
He said the facility had to create more isolation units for the coronavirus victims and his sister had to move rooms, which confused her.
“She expressed to me, 'something has happened to my neighbor. She’s gone and I don’t know what they did with her,'" Loveday explained. "So she was distressed that her circle of friends from the nursing home is now not her circle of friends there.”
Loveday is on the outside looking in and he reassures his sister everything is okay every time they get to talk.
"It always ends with 'I love you and let's pray for each other,' and that's about all we can do," Loveday smiled.
Jefferson Park said the people who have tested positive for the virus are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. It said staff is following all CDC guidelines to stop the spread.