Its Time to End COVID Isolation for Elderly & Sick

by ELAC Member Karl Honegger

In June, I attended the funeral and military honors of my 95 year old grandfather. He was one of the ‘Greatest Generation’ and I remember many of the stories he would tell of his time as an Army veteran during WWII,  his time as a pastor of a small church and playing pranks at the mortuary where he retired from.

In the nursing home where he had moved to within the last year, he tested positive for COVID-19 and, although asymptomatic, was moved to isolation. Soon after, he passed away. II was able to talk to him on Facetime the last week of his life, but no one was allowed to visit him. This is one example of how the rules being pushed by public health officials are restricting civil liberties. It seems no thought went into how these regulations actually impact the lives of their constituents. 

While I understand the desire to prevent the spread of a novel virus that is especially dangerous to the elderly, there are valid policies that can be implemented to prevent other families from having to experience such an isolating experience when their loved one passes away.

Making a Difference

Others have experienced similar problems with their loved ones being isolated, even when they had not tested positive to the virus. One family created the NEVER Alone Project to begin to share stories of those who have experienced the negative consequences of these one size fits all policies. 

Steve Reiter created this website after he and his son’s were denied the ability to visit their Wife and Mother, Elizabeth,  due to visitation policies the hospital had set up in trying to follow the rules put in place by Colorado public health bureaucrats. Even though both he and his wife had tested negative for the virus, when his wife was receiving hospital treatment for pneumonia and a blood infection, she was forced to be isolated from her loved ones until she passed away. Steve believes that a contributing reason to her death was the forced isolation from her loved ones. A former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Judge Napolitano argues thatwhen the executive branch takes upon itself the role of not just enforcing the law, but of making up new ones and in the process crushes basic fundamental liberties like the right to travel…we are witnessing the slow death, the death in slow motion of civil liberties.” 

Destruction of Civil Liberties

This slow death of our civil liberties is contributing to the slow death of those who while they may be at high risk of the Coronavirus, have a Constitutional right to not be punished with isolation. I saw this with my grandfather. As Judge Napolitano points out “[The] Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the states from interfering with life, liberty or property without a trial at which the state must prove fault.” Napolitano then asks an important question “If liberty can be taken away in times of crisis, then is it really liberty; or is it just a license, via a temporary government permission slip, subject to the whims of politicians in power?”

What is happening with visitation rights for families? The executive branch of local and state governments believe our personal liberty is really just a license from the government.  Therefore, they think it’s quite fine for them to snatch that liberty away from us and allow our loved ones to be isolated.

Hospital Visitation: What About What We Want?

While at least 26 states have started to loosen some of their policies around visitation in nursing homes and other states have plans to follow suit, we still need our state legislators to act now before the liberty to visit our loved ones is taken away again. Kaiser Health News warns “Visitation policies may change, however, if state officials become concerned about a rise in COVID-19 cases. And individual facilities are not obligated to open up to families…” The executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, Lori Smetanka, has decided to advocate for policies that return some of our Constitutional rights to the over 2 million people living in nursing homes. 

She argues that we must create and require “family visitation policies to be mandatory, not optional.” Her organization has started the movement to fight for our loved ones in nursing homes with the organization Visitation Saves Lives. 

This organization is working to improve visitation rights for nursing home residents as they “are suffering profound social isolation, frustration, and neglect.” They are asking loved ones to “[post} a picture or video on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and telling us why visitation is important to you.” and “Use the hashtag #VisitationSavesLives”. 

Standing up for our civil liberties is standing up for the quality of life of our loved ones. Bert Uchino, a University of Utah professor and researcher who studies how social relationships influence health, argues that “The combination of social isolation and loneliness is very unhealthy for anyone, but for older adults, it’s particularly bad…Just about every biological system is impacted in one way or another by psychosocial relationships.” A professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine, Bill Elder, offers this warning: “Visitation restrictions at nursing homes as a result of COVID-19 are likely to be affecting our loved ones’ health…This goes beyond simple loneliness and can result in significant health issues, both mental and physical.” 

Other experts around the United States argue that “The sudden disruption in residents’ contact with loved ones has caused notable declines in residents’ cognition and function, depression, as well as anguish for family members.”  

They point to a study in the Netherlands that found benefits to allowing increased visitation to nursing homes, “even those with active cases of covid-19 infection. Criteria included spacing visits to a facility through the day and week, allowing one visitor per resident, and requiring distancing or personal protective equipment. No resurgence of COVID infections ensued, and the Dutch government reopened nursing homes to visitors using these guidelines.”

We do not need to think of our Constitutional rights as being opposed to the health and safety of those most vulnerable to this novel Coronavirus. Policy makers should work to restrain the power of the executive branch of our State governments and consider how they can pass laws to make it easier to exercise our right to liberty.

What About Scientific Experimentation?

Not only do visitation rights need to be improved but also allowing the scientific community to experiment with ways of making visitation safer should be legally allowed. While some in the United States believe that we need to wait till a vaccine is created before resuming “normal” life, it is possible that natural immunity may allow those who have elderly loved ones or who work with the elderly to safely spend time around those who are most at risk of this virus. Controlled and intentional infection of the virus (called variolation) for those who are at least risk should be considered as an option for anyone willing to take the risk. Economist Robin Hanson expects that variolation could cut the risk of dying from the virus by a factor of three to thirty. 

A lot of focus has been put by the media on potentially infectious young people spreading the virus through having a fun time outside with others. But what if healthy young people intentionally volunteered to quarantine  themselves after taking part in variolation in order to reduce the damage of the virus while also increasing the opportunities they have to work with the elderly or spend time with their loved ones? 

Robin Hanson advocates for variolation by discussing it as Plan B, due to the ineffectiveness of other plans. While a cure or a safe vaccine may seem hopeful as part of Plan A, it is anyone’s guess as to when either options will become available. It should be easy to agree on the desire to end the viral pandemic as soon as possible, but only Plan B could possibly end it sooner. 

There are already over 30,000 people from around the world who have signed up to be volunteers at to participate in what is being called a “human challenge trial” if it were to be legally allowed.  

It should be obvious to anyone who reads the Constitution, but Judge Napolitano reminds us that “the Constitution has no emergency exceptions.”

Stop the Infringement on Liberty

If we continue to allow this infringement upon our civil liberties with the current restrictions on visitation rights we will only see more people dying of a broken heart due to isolation. There are ways to allow people more freedom and human connection in the immediate future. Hopefully, politicians along with medical professionals will support policies that allow us to keep our inalienable rights.

It’s time to speak up and join the Steamboat Institute in stopping the Stampede on our Civil Liberties. Join the fight here.

July 30, 2020 ELAC