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SC long-term care facilities begin to lock down visits after Trump's coronavirus speech

isolation room.jpg coronavirus

One of two isolation rooms located at Roper Hospice Cottage in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

After a presidential address from the White House touched on the safety of the nation's elderly, South Carolina's long-term care facilities are considering visitation limits to their facilities.

Health officials have been crystal clear that the new coronavirus poses the greatest threat to the elderly. And given 26 people have died as of Wednesday night at a long-term care facility in Washington state where coronavirus spread, all nursing homes and assisted living facilities are on high alert.

During an address to the nation late Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump said his administration is “strongly advising” all nursing homes suspend medically unnecessary visits.

“The highest risk is for elderly populations with underlying health conditions,” Trump said. "We are strongly advising that nursing homes for the elderly suspend all medically unnecessary visits."

Elderly people should also avoid travel and large gatherings, the president said.

Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement Thursday morning that nursing homes should "carefully consider the South Carolina Health and Environmental Control’s guidance and determine whether it would be best for the health and well-being of those in their care to limit outside visitors.”

Randy Lee, president of the South Carolina Health Care Association, said the state's long-term care facilities are already restricting visits one way or another. But most have not shut their doors to visitors entirely, he said.

Lee said there has been no directive from state officials to close facilities' doors. But nursing homes and assisted living facilities know the fewer people who come into the building, the better.

"This is a very vulnerable population," Lee said. "We will always err on the side of caution."

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At Bishop Gadsden on James Island, leadership is meeting regularly to discuss whether any new safety measures need to be put in place, said spokeswoman Kimberly Borts.

The nursing home is connecting families via FaceTime or Skype to residents who are already quarantined, Borts said.

The American Health Care Association said long-term care sites should discourage all unnecessary visits. 

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were not the only organizations catering to seniors that considered a change in plans.

The town of Hollywood, a community of about 5,000 on the rural southern end of Charleston County, announced Thursday it would shutter its senior center for the time being.

Mayor John Dunmyer III said in a statement the senior center's closing is meant "to assure the families that use our services for the seniors are safe from this virus."

Chloe Johnson contributed to this report.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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