7 On Your Side Investigates: Hundreds of nursing homes still aren't allowing visitation amid coronavirus pandemic

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Nearly five months after the coronavirus pandemic started, thousands of families in New York still haven't been able to visit their loved ones in nursing homes despite the approval of COVID-19 visitation plans that went into effect in July.

Marian Graviano's brother is an Army veteran who has been cooped up inside a Long Island veterans' home since March, and no family members have been allowed to visit.

"I knew that this was going to happen," she said. "I think it takes away hope."

She had hope when the state announced last month that loved ones could visit if no residents or staff members test positive for the virus for 28 days.

For Graviano, that was supposed to be last week. But she says the clock was just reset for another 28 days after an employee at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.

"I'm afraid that there will be a surge soon in say late October, November, and I'll never see my brother again," she said. "It can just go on and on and on."

The New York Department of Health imposed strict guidelines after nursing homes were hit hard by the virus. Out of the more than 600 nursing homes in New York, only 223 have met the threshold and are able to have visitation.

"We know how deadly it is and how contagious it is," Graviano said. "I don't want to put my brother at risk or any other resident or even myself, but there's got to be a balance."

She's worried it is taking a toll on her brother's body and mind.

New York Senator Rachel May is also voicing concerns after the issue was brought up during a hearing earlier this week.

"The cognitive decline people are having just from the isolation that people are having is real, so I just have to believe there are ways to get people in," she said.

In a statement, the Department of health said: "As we said from the beginning, science and safety would guide our decision to resume visitations to nursing homes, and it has. The number of facilities that are eligible to reopen to visitors, and the number that have taken the next step, shows they are appropriately adhering to CMS guidelines with smart and cautious plans for visitation. Given the increase in cases nationally, we commend them for all they - and all New Yorkers - have done to flatten the curve and to stay safe."

Family members believe more adjustments could be made.

"I just think the Department of Health is slow to find a balance to make sure everybody's needs are met," Graviano said. "Take advantage of the outside visitation, if the resident has a mask on and the visitor has a mask on in the fresh air at 6 feet away, everyone should be safe, they really should be."

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