Area hospitals are loosening visitation restrictions as COVID-19 numbers continue to decrease in East Tennessee.

Blount Memorial Hospital enacted on Wednesday, March 24, the most liberal visitation policy of all hospitals in Knox and Blount counties. BMH now will allow patients to have two rotating visitors at a time; before, only one designated visitor was permitted per patient.

Blount Memorial’s cancer center still only permits one designated visitor per patient.

Hospitals use the terms “rotating” and “designated” to describe visitors. If a hospital permits two designated visitors, it means those people are the only ones allowed to visit a patient. If two rotating visitors are authorized, anyone can see a patient — with the caveat that only two can visit at a time.

“We think that this will be helpful to our patients, obviously, to allow them to have more interaction with the people that they care about and love, and also it will allow the loved ones to be able to interact with them ... if they need to offer support,” Blount Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harold Naramore said.

Masks are required throughout the facility, and hospital workers will screen people for COVID; however, all visitors’ temperatures will not be taken. “Essentially it’s not been helpful overall, and it makes sense to back off of that,” Naramore said.

This month, only 28 Blount Countians have been newly hospitalized with COVID, according to Tennessee Department of Health data from March 25. That number may not reflect the amount of Blount County residents with the virus occupying hospital beds — as some people who were hospitalized in earlier months may still be inpatients.

March’s figure of 28 new hospitalized Blount Countians is similar to February, which saw a total of 30 new hospitalizations, TDH data shows.

While hospitalization numbers have stayed steady, Blount COVID cases have drastically decreased. TDH reported 1,391 cases in February and only 594 in March as of Friday.

“There’s always some risk when we start to open back up, but I believe the risk is well within a reasonable amount,” Naramore said.

Knox County’s COVID decrease matches Blount’s. TDH reported 2,103 new Knox cases as of March 25 and 4,439 in February. The drop has led Knoxville hospitals to reconsider their visitation restrictions as well.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital updated its policy on March 8 — permitting two visitors per child, rather than the previously allowed one.

“(Visitation restrictions) were the biggest dissatisfier,” ETCH spokeswoman Erica Estep said. “We are patient and family-focused, and that was a big dissatisfier obviously with parents and family members that they couldn’t see people.”

University of Tennessee Medical Center revised its restrictions on March 2. A patient now can have one rotating, rather than one designated, visitor.

Covenant Health, which operates Parkwest Medical Center and Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, also allow one rotating visitor. Covenant spokeswoman Teresa Gross told The Daily Times that the hospitals are looking to update their visitation policies.

“Covenant Health is in the process of modifying visitation guidelines and will announce any changes on the health system’s website next week,” she emailed.

UT and Covenant allow pregnant patients two designated visitors. Blount Memorial’s policy that went into effect Wednesday allows two rotating visitors per pregnant patient.

Lifting visitation restrictions means people no longer have to suffer or celebrate alone — signaling the end to the onslaught of loneliness caused by the pandemic.

“I also have sadly learned the tragedy of people having to suffer alone. I’ve learned the pain that it brings to them and their families and friends — and to the people who care for them,” Naramore said. “To say that’s not sobering is just not true.”

Follow @_shelbyharris on Twitter for more from county government reporter Shelby Harris.

Reporter

Shelby joined The Daily Times in 2019 as a reporter covering county government.

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