How COVID-19 Has Changed the Rules for Hospital Visits

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by Kate Delany |

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My sister Mary was just in the hospital for the first time in nine months. Though she was an inpatient over the holidays last winter, as so many cystic fibrosis patients often are, we couldn’t visit her because of the pandemic, which made the experience even more difficult.

Nine months is probably one of the longest stretches I’ve ever gone without setting foot in a hospital, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I wanted to make sure I stayed safe, kept my sister safe, and was mindful of the safety of my family at home. And while I didn’t really encounter any big surprises, I thought it would be useful to pass along some advice to the friends and family of CF patients who may want to visit them during a hospitalization.

Check hospital guidelines

State governments have developed protocols for hospitals in response to COVID-19. (Here’s New Jersey’s, where I live.) As with policies for masking and school openings, protocols vary by state. Additionally, the actual policies are determined by individual facilities, so it’s worth checking the website of the hospital you plan to visit. Different hospitals in the same state might have different policies.

Clarify the ‘one visitor’ rule

When my sister was hospitalized last winter at the height of COVID-19, there was a brief window of time during which she was permitted one visitor, but only one. This was initially a point of confusion for my family, because we assumed that meant one visitor at a time. However, the “one visitor” rule means visitation was limited to just one designated person. If this is the policy at your facility, you won’t be allowed to visit unless you are that single designated visitor.

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Bring photo ID

This one was a bit of a surprise to me. In my experience, hospitals are usually ghost towns on weekends, so easy in, easy out. This was not the case this time. I was stopped and asked to sign in and show a photo ID. Though it wasn’t my experience, some hospitals are also enforcing limits of how long visitors can stay, and during what hours.

Expect to stay bedside

Before COVID-19, I was a bit of a hospital hallway meanderer. My sister and I would take her pet IV pole for a walk up and down the halls, or I’d pop into the commissary to see what kind of cookies the hospital was stocking up on. Now, facilities will likely require you to stay in the room of the patient you’re visiting. While you might be able to go to the cafeteria to get food, chances are you won’t be able to eat there. Visitors should expect that they won’t be able to come and go from a patient’s room, except to use the bathroom or to step out for a routine procedure, such as an X-ray.

Mask up, maybe gloves and suits, too

Masking up should be a no-brainer by now. You might also need to don full personal protective equipment, including gloves and a gown. Anticipate this if you are visiting a CFer on a surgical intensive care unit (ICU), or a medical ICU floor.

Lastly, hospital-acquired COVID-19 remains a concern, and for good reason. The numbers and stories of in-hospital transmission in the early days of the pandemic were very troubling. However, hospital visits can help alleviate the depression and anxiety that many CFers deal with. It’s important to find some balance and come up with a plan that works for everyone and that suits everyone’s needs and concerns.

If you’re not ready for a hospital visit with the CFer in your life, please consider sending them a card or text message, or calling them. It might just be the thing that brightens their day.

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Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

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