HARTFORD — The state of Connecticut is allowing nursing homes to begin allowing some residents to meet with loved ones outside, wearing a mask and adhering to social distancing, months after Gov. Ned Lamont imposed a ban on most visits to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic since older people are among the most vulnerable to the virus — but limiting visits was hard on residents and families.

“We know that the social and emotional connection is incredibly important,” said Connecticut Long Term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter, during a Facebook chat with families this week.

While many of the more than 200 nursing homes across Connecticut have begun to allow these limited visitations, still strict restrictions still in place, said Matthew Barrett, president and CEO the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living. For example, families under most situations are not allowed inside the buildings.

“It's limited but it is an important step toward opening up visitation," said Barrett, who said it's still “much too early to say” when the more severe restrictions will be lifted.

Figures released Thursday show there have been a total of 2,648 confirmed or probable deaths associated with the virus at nursing homes and 349 confirmed or probable deaths at assisted living facilities in Connecticut. Combined, those deaths make up more than 72% of the state's total 4,146 COVID-19 deaths, as of Thursday.

Barrett noted that the majority of nursing home residents in Connecticut who've contracted COVID-19 have recovered.

The state Department of Public Health this week issued new guidelines that allow nursing home residents who have tested negative for COVID-19 and have not been exposed to the coronavirus to meet outdoors with a limited number of people. Those visitors must be screened by the staff and sit at least 6 feet apart.

Both the residents and the visitors must wear face coverings and the number of overall visitors must be limited at a facility. Masks and hand sanitizer must also be available.

Painter said she is hopeful that the state's infection rate will continue to trend downward and ultimately subside, “but that doesn't mean we totally let our guard down.” It's unclear when regular visitations at nursing homes will be allowed.

“We want to make sure we're mindful and prepare for the fall and make sure people are protected, but they also have access,” she said.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or lead to death.

In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:

BY THE NUMBERS

The number of COVID-19 cases in Connecticut continues to grow. Figures released Friday show there have been 44,689 positive cases, an increase of 228 since Thursday. The gain comes as the number of tests jumped by 8,309 since Thursday, for a total of 328,353.

As of Friday, there have been 4,159 COVID-19-associated deaths, an increase of 13 more people since Thursday. Fairfield County still has the largest number of confirmed and probable COVID deaths, a combined total of 1,337. However, Hartford County is close behind with a combined total of 1,313, even though the region has had about 5,000 fewer confirmed and probable cases.

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized dropped by two to 244 patients. That's down from the peak of 1,972 hospitalizations on April 22.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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