COVID-19 Leads to Visitor Lockdown in Charlottesville COVID-19 Leads to Visitor Lockdown in Charlottesville

UVA Charlottesville goes on lockdown to visitors until further notice with limited exceptions.

CHARLOTTESVILLE – As of today, patients can’t have visitors at University of Virginia (UVA) Health.

The change occurs in facilities including inpatient units, the emergency department, outpatient clinics and outpatient procedural areas.

Announced on Tuesday, hospital officials said they made the changes to protect the health of the patients and team members. This comes as COVID-19 cases recently increased in the Charlottesville area and throughout Virginia.

Limited exceptions to the no-visitor rule apply. Unit managers may allow visitors for specific patients if the visitor is not COVID-19 positive and does not have symptoms of COVID-19 or other contagious diseases.

Officials at the 696-bed hospital said they made the decision in the best interest of the patients and public.

“We know we had a very open visitation policy before COVID with family members to be with the patient even overnight if they decided that was what was best for the family member, the patient,” said Bush Bell, administrator for hospitality and support services. “We are having these spikes in cases in the community, in the Charlottesville community and throughout our commonwealth. Having additional people in the care setting increases the risk for not only the visitors and the patients, but also for our staff. So we’ve made this balance of what is the greatest risk and reward of having visitors for patients? So at this point, when we’re seeing such a prevalence of cases in the community, we feel like we have to make this decision to protect everyone.”

A Similar Approach

UVA Health also rolled out a no-visitor policy due to COVID last year. In the spring of 2020, Bell said the Charlottesville hospital took a similar approach.

“We limited visitors to certain times of the day,” Bell said. “And then as that peak became higher, we further restricted visitors much in the same way that we are right now.”

Like before, the hospital encouraged loved ones to reach out through phone calls and video calls.

“We encourage people to do that as much as possible,” Bell said.

If patients don’t have access to a personal cell phone, laptop or tablet, the hospital has iPads available for use.

“We encourage folks that even if you can’t come see them, you can see them in other ways,” Bell said.

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Exceptions to the Rule

There are certain patient care areas and circumstances, which warrant another person or two being in the room.

“There are standard exceptions, of course,” Bell said.

Examples include pre-transplant patients, patients giving birth and patients at the end of their lives. Furthermore, pediatric patients and patients with disabilities may have one adult visitor with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout an inpatient admission, emergency department visit or outpatient visit or procedure.

“The most common exceptions are end of life, pediatric patients and mothers who are in active labor. You can imagine for those folks, those are so critical to have somebody with you,” Bell said. “Pediatric patients can’t participate in their care, so they need a parent or decision-maker with them. And of course any child is going to be acutely concerned if they’re in a hospital all by themselves.”

Bell also explained the exception for those with a terminal prognosis.

“End of life, we know how important that is to the patient, but also to their close family members, so we allow a small group, two people, to be visiting that patient at the end of life as they’re going through that process,” Bell said.

He also touched on the exception for those at the beginning of their lives.

“Mothers in active labor, obviously we want them to have a caregiver to be with them at that point,” Bell said.

Additional Exceptions in Charlottesville

For other, less frequent situations, the hospital also makes exceptions.

“Transplant, which is really the pre-transplant patients who are waiting in the hospital for that donor organ to come to them. Many times decisions need to be made very quickly in the moment,” Bell said. “Sometimes that patient is either unable to make that decision or needs to confer with their loved one about decisions in the moment. So we need to make those decisions very, very quickly.” 

For patients with exceptions to the visitation rules, visitors cannot simply walk into the individual’s hospital room.

The hospital will conduct COVID-19 health screenings on every visitor coming to the facility.

“From the very beginning, we’ve had this symptom screening happen at all of our facilities, whether it be for clinic visits or people coming into the hospital, visitors coming into the hospital,” Bell said.

During the screening, a hospital staff member asks if the visitor has any respiratory symptoms or other COVID symptoms. The staff member also takes each individual’s temperature.

“This has become very common in every healthcare setting in the United States now,” Bell said. “If they have any of those symptoms, then unfortunately visitors are not permitted to enter.”

If they don’t confirm or present any COVID-19 symptoms and they do not have a fever, they may see their loved one.

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Visitor restrictions

Unlike visits prior to the pandemic, visitors cannot come and go freely from the hospital as they please. Once the guests leaves the building, they cannot come back until the following day.

“We don’t want them coming in and out because that just adds an extra, additional risk to them as they are going throughout the community and then coming back into the hospital,” Bell said.

That doesn’t mean visitors need to either go on a fast or pack a picnic basket for their stay. While they can’t leave the premises and return on the same day, they can exit the patient’s room and return for necessary reasons.

“Of course, our cafeteria’s open. We know that people need to eat, so we want them to come down into the cafeteria. And go to the bathroom,”
 Bell said. “We do want them to stay with the patient in the patient’s room as much as possible for their own protection and for the protection of the patient in the room.”

Visitors must also wear a mask at all times while in the hospital.

Current Circumstances in Charlottesville

At the moment, UVA Health does not have a timeline for lifting visitor restrictions.

“It’s very hard to predict this, obviously, because we don’t know how quickly the vaccine is going to get out and how quickly that impact is going to happen. When will this current peak start to get on the other side of it? At that point, that’s when we’ll be able to release our visitor restrictions and go back to not fully open, but probably the next stage to happen would be allowing some visitors to come in for a limited time during the day, much like you did prior to this change,” Bell said. “We really look at a lot of factors. We look at prevalence of COVID within the hospital, within the community, within the commonwealth. All of those factors that are possibly reviewed are to ensure that we are making the best decision for our patients.”

The hospital encouraged patients and potential visitors to talk with the healthcare team to learn more about any potential exceptions.

“We want to provide the absolute safest care for all of our patients and keeping them safe, as well as their family members and our team members,” Bell said. “Making this decision is very hard, but we feel like we’ve carved out these appropriate exceptions.”

Those with questions about visitation exceptions may contact the hospital at (434) 924-0000 or visit uvahealth.com/services/covid19-visiting-restrictions.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com