KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — COVID-19 took a toll on nursing homes during the pandemic, after around 2,700 resident deaths across Tennessee. However, the vaccine is quickly working to turn that around.
The Tennessee Department of Health said all nursing homes and facilities have completed both doses of vaccinations.
For Knox County, nursing homes saw record-high cases and deaths in January, but they've since declined. Data shows cases have dropped 55 percent and that deaths have dropped roughly 70 percent.
Whether visitors talked to a loved one over the phone, saw them through a window or smiled at them through plexiglass — they felt the impact the pandemic had on nursing homes. Experts said the isolation due to the pandemic could take a serious toll on residents' mental health.
Strict precautions were set as cases soared, pulling families farther apart. It also meant thousands of families lost their loved ones without getting to say goodbye.
"We had to accept the reality we can't be around her right now," said Charles Denney, who's been waiting to hug his 76-year-old mother. "I've only seen my mother on the other side of glass twice in the past year."
A decrease in cases and deaths were seen nationwide and the trend is bringing his family hope.
"It's really encouraging to hear and we'll look forward to the day we can see my mom again," he said.
The American Healthcare Association and National Center for Assisted Living say nationwide cases have declined 82 percent since December in nursing homes. Deaths have dropped by 63 percent.
"I think this speaks to vaccinations, what nursing homes have been doing to keep residents separate from other people just doing what they can to stop the spread," said Denney.
Knox County is leading the state in the percentage of the population vaccinated with both doses. Officials said that there were more than 101,000 vaccinations given.
"For me, it's very important," said Denney. "We have limited time with my mom. To know we lost a year of that contact."
It's lost time, but now his family may have a chance to make it up.
TDH ended visitation restrictions for nursing homes last week, but some precautions remain in place such as only allowing indoor visitation when there's been no new cases for 14 days.
"We've all been patient and now it looks like the patience paid off a little bit. We'll all get to see our loved ones soon in person," said Denney.