It was a day of tears at Woodland Park Assisted Living.

The last year has been tough on many but particularly those in senior homes and assisted living facilities. Outside of virtual visits, waving at loved ones through their window and some outdoor visits, the ability for families to visit with loved ones have been limited.

That changed Jan. 22—the first day families were allowed back for in-person visits in almost a year, with the completion of a screening when they arrived, the requirement for masks and a barrier in between family members for 30-minute visits.

For people like Cindy Burke, health conditions meant, outside of her almost daily phone calls, that it had been since last March that she’d seen her mother, Mary Ann Gates, in-person.

“I saw her once through the door when I dropped something off,” Burke said. “Other than that, I haven’t seen her.”

That was quite a change from pre-pandemic, where Burke would either see her mother or talk to her on almost a daily basis. The last 11 months have been hard, Burke said, especially with her father passing away a couple years earlier. Her mother has Alzheimer’s, so she’s had trouble remembering things and sometimes is unaware of the previous phone calls.

“I’m thrilled to be able to see my mom. I feel like I’ve missed a year of her life,” Burke said.

However, when Gates emerged to see her daughter waiting for her, none of that seemed to matter. The recognition was instantaneous, and the tears began to flow for mother, daughter and staff there to facilitate it.

Jessica Geiger, assisted living director, said the emotions were running high for both staff and residents since the notification that visits could resume.

“It was great,” she said. “Every time we’d come around to talk to [residents], it seemed like we just always had bad news. We never had something good.

“So, to be able to go into their apartments and say, ‘Your family gets to come. You finally get to see them.’ There was so much excitement. There were so many happy tears…It’s why we’ve done our best to keep them safe.”

As family members began reaching out about visits, the excitement was palpable, too. Phones have been ringing regularly with families working to set up appointments.

Though visits were back, they were only made possible due to the fact that there have been no recent positive cases at the facility and the positivity rate dropped below 10%. The center had hoped they were close to visitors back in the fall before case counts exploded, and Geiger hopes they are here to stay.

“We’ve got to keep that positivity rate down, otherwise these poor people who are in their 90s don’t get to see their family. That’s been the worst part,” she said, even more than the sacrifices the staff members themselves have had to make. “We just need everybody to keep wearing masks and keep doing what they can and get vaccinated when it’s available to them.”

She’s not the only one, as Burke hopes this will be the first of many visits to her mother for both her and her brothers.

“Hopefully, we can kind of get back to normal,” Burke said.

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