WakeMed, UNC and Duke ease restrictions on visitors despite surge in COVID-19 cases

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's not quite rolling out the red carpet, but this is welcome news for many lonely patients.

WakeMed on Friday allowed one visitor per patient to visit his or her loved one in the hospital for the first time amidst the COVID19 pandemic, joining UNC Rex and Duke Hospital which instituted similar updated policies this week.

"This is not a step we are taking lightly," Donald Gintzig, President and CEO of WakeMed Health and Hospitals, told ABC11. "The safety of the WakeMed family and our patients has been front and center during the many thoughtful discussions about this topic. We recognize our visitation restrictions, while critically needed, have been difficult on patients, their families and staff, who have shared heartbreaking stories with us. This new visitation policy, while less restrictive than our current policy, still allows us to maintain a safe environment."

According to WakeMed's updated guidelines, the designated supporter must be at least 18 years old, be screened with a temperature check and free of COVID-19 symptoms each time they visit, and always wear a face covering. The visitors are also prohibited from roaming the halls, gathering in lobbies or waiting rooms, and "follow all social distancing and safety guidance."

The protocols are similar at the other two systems though other restrictions remain in place.

"Due to space limits, UNC REX cannot accommodate visitors in the Emergency Department, or with clinic visits, radiology exams and lab tests," Alan Wolf, a spokesman for UNC Rex, told ABC11. "Those restrictions may be reevaluated as the COVID situation continues to evolve."

Still, Wolf maintains that executives and senior physicians agree that "the benefits of allowing some visitors outweigh the risks;" UNC was the first to roll out the changes, which took effect June 22.

"We have sufficient capacity of beds, supplies of PPE and other equipment, and staff," Wolf adds. "We are working hard to ensure that the health and safety of our patients, staff and visitors remains our top priority."

Katie Galbraith, President of Duke Regional, echoed that sentiment and similarly credited the boost in personal protective equipment and availability of inpatient beds.

"It is a fine balancing act because the reality is visitors and family members are valuable to our patients and are an important part of the healing process," Galbraith told ABC11. "This is definitely not a decision we have taken lightly. We have been considering the right timing for the last few weeks."

The new protocols at Duke apply to the region's three hospitals, including Duke University, Duke Raleigh and Duke Regional.
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