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COVID-19 hospital visitor rules - Families want more accessibility

Jayden Arbelaez, who was banned from the Florida hospital room in which her mother died of COVID-19, pitched an idea for nearby construction workers.

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COVID-19 hospital visitor rules - Families want more accessibility

Arbelaez asked them "Is there any other way I could get there?" Arbelaez pointed to a small window on the third floor of Jacksonville's hospital.

The workers gave the 17 year old a yellow vest, boots and helmet, as well as a ladder to help her climb onto a section on the roof. This allowed her to see Michelle Arbelaez through the window.

One year and a quarter into the pandemic which has claimed 700,000 lives in the U.S. hospitals in at least half-dozen US states have relaxed restrictions on COVID patients' visits. However, others are standing firm and supported by industry groups and studies that show such policies are crucial in keeping hospital-acquired infection low.

Many COVID-19 patient families and doctors are asking hospitals for a rethink of their strategy. They argue that it restricts the rights of patients to spend time with loved ones during a critical time.

"We have to get people thinking about the risk-benefit equation," Dr. Lauren Van Scoy of Penn State, a pulmonary and critical medicine physician who has studied the effects of limited visits for relatives of COVID-19 victims. "The risk of getting COVID against the risk of what these families are going though, the psychological and the emotional harm."

Van Scoy stated that many family members she interviewed had signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Doctors have had conversations with patients who refused or delayed crucial treatment due to the restrictions on visiting.

Studies conducted prior to the pandemic showed that patients aged over 60 in ICUs with restricted visits were more likely to develop delirium than those who had access to more flexible units.

Van Scoy also agrees that it was sensible to limit visits at the start of the pandemic because there wasn't enough vaccines and protective equipment. Now, however, the range of testing and vaccinations has greatly expanded and doctors believe that personal protective equipment and screening mechanisms can help keep the virus away.

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that infected patients not be seen in person.

We do not take the sacrifices that we ask individuals and their families to make lightly. Nancy Foster, vice-president of quality and patient safety policy for the American Hospital Association, said that we wouldn't do it unless absolutely necessary.

Ann Marie Pettis is the president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. While acknowledging the benefits that visiting patients can bring, she said that the group discourages visitors in most cases.

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