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New safety guidelines will allow visitation at care facilities in South Carolina

After a request from Governor McMaster, DHEC will release the plan to the public next week.

SOUTH CAROLINA, USA — Visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities has been restricted since March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic. That may change soon – and many people will get to see their loved ones again.

Governor Henry McMaster has asked S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to create guidelines that will allow visitation going forward.

In a letter to the agency, McMaster said visitor restrictions put in place in March were a heartbreaking necessity to help save the lives of elderly and at-risk residents. 

RELATED: SC governor wants nursing home visits to resume soon

“Although no policy or procedure can eliminate all possibility of risk, it is clear that the time has come to expand current rules to allow in-person visitation by immediate family members, loved ones or caregivers,” McMaster said.

Many South Carolinians have been waiting to see their loved ones for months. This week, News 19 viewer Ryan Clark sent us a concerned letter he wrote up for the governor. 

RELATED: 'Hug wall' helps seniors at long-term care facility connect with loved ones

“…I’m constantly worried if my grandmother, who has dementia and is in a memory care unit, thinks we’ve abandoned her…,” Clark says in the letter.

Clark says his family has tried to do window visits with his 87-year-old grandmother, but she’s nearly deaf and doesn’t know how to use a smart phone.

In the beginning of August, News 19 also spoke with Betty Williams Higgins. Her mom is in a Columbia nursing home and they haven’t seen each other in five months.

RELATED: Columbia woman hasn't seen mom in nursing home in months due to COVID-19

"It has been really, really hard for me to go to bed at night," Higgins says. "I don't have good sleep at night because I worry about her and just having to get used to the idea of her being in there is one thing, but not being able to see her and physically be able to get her out to ride around, go to the hair dresser it's just a sick and painful feeling to not be able to see her."

DHEC tells News 19 they understand the mental and emotional toll social isolation has on residents and they’re creating safety guidelines to allow visitors to return. 

RELATED: Nursing homes should be virus-free for 28 days before opening, feds warn

“To balance the strong desire of residents and their family members to communicate in person, with the need to protect these vulnerable residents from COVID-19, we will be providing guidelines to nursing homes detailing the process to allow limited visitation," DHEC officials said in a statement. "Visitation will be phased in based on the disease levels in the facility and in the surrounding community. These criteria, phases, and guidelines will be based on the most recent CMS and CDC guidance for reopening nursing homes…”

DHEC says they hope to release the plan to the public next week, after the governor has reviewed it.