TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Ron DeSantis, acknowledging what he called the “emotional damage” caused by a lockdown of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic, said on Tuesday that the state will look at ways to ease restrictions that have kept nursing-home residents and family members separated since March.

“I think that would put a lot of people at ease knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” DeSantis said. He said one idea that the state is considering would allow people who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies — an indication they have already had the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus — to be able to enter nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The governor said he will set up a task force to also look at other options. DeSantis made the announcement during an event in Jacksonville that included Mary Daniel, who drew national attention because she became a dishwasher at a memory care facility so she could spend time at the center with her husband, who has an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Daniel told the governor that family members are “desperate” to see their loved ones who have been isolated after the state closed off care facilities as part of the state’s strategy to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

Seniors and people with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the disease. Daniel said she and others are willing to follow any rule that could allow visitation. “We don’t want to open the doors, we don’t want to be foolish,” Daniel said. “It’s incredibly important we get it right.”

Daniel suggested following the lead of Indiana and Minnesota, which have placed an “essential caregiver” designation on family members who visited at least twice a week before the pandemic. Those family members are tested regularly.

Daniel also noted that some states allow visitation in outside areas, where residents and family members wear some sort of protective equipment.

Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma hinted July 22 that the Trump administration would reopen visitation at nursing homes if the facilities were COVID-19 free for two weeks.

To help accomplish that goal, the federal government will send rapid point-of-care diagnostic devices and associated tests to nursing homes.

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