As a staff member wheeled 102-year-old Laura Jerstad into a sunny room in her Kissimmee, Florida, nursing home, she reached out her hand to her loved ones who’d been eagerly waiting to see her.
The April 21 reunion was the first time she’d gotten to see her daughter-in-law, Sandy, and granddaughter, Rachel, since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I love you, honey,” Jerstad said as Rachel stroked her arm and kissed her on the head with her masked face. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Sandy Jerstad, 77, replied that it was good to see her after two years and complimented her blouse and necklace.
Rachel Jerstad, 52, told CNN that she and her family don’t get to see her grandma as much as they’d like because she lives in Minnesota and her mom lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
She said her mom had planned to visit her last year, but had to cancel the trip because of Covid-19.
Her mom and grandma were already vaccinated, so Rachel said they booked their flights for two weeks after she got her second shot.
“I am so grateful for the vaccine,” she said. “I am so grateful because I don’t know how long my grandma will be here and because of the vaccine, we were able to see her in person.”
Rachel Jerstad said the nursing home arranges FaceTime calls with family, and has a “really neat” tool for sending messages to residents.
“Those things are wonderful, but nothing is the same as seeing her in person and being able to sit and hold her hand, and give her a hug, and kiss her face and tell her how much I love her,” she said.
Jerstad said she and her mom spent three full days with her grandma — telling stories, sharing memories and talking about her dad and grandfather.
“We all just laughed, and it was so fun to see her laugh, because you know, at 102, you’re tired and she still has that funny sense of humor,” she said.
It was also the first chance she’s had to spend time with her mom, because they’ve both stayed home during the pandemic.
A spokeswoman for Good Samaritan Society, which operates more than 200 senior care locations in 22 states including the Kissimmee Village where Laura Jerstad lives, told CNN that visitors don’t have to be vaccinated to visit their loved ones.
Tess Hedrick said they follow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidelines for nursing home visitors, which calls for guests to be screened for Covid-19 symptoms and possible exposure, wear masks at at times, wash their hands before visits and maintain a safe distance from staff and other residents. They also prefer to hold visits outside.
If residents and their guests are vaccinated, they can now be together without masks if they are able to be in a separate room.
The Kissimme Village location is getting about 25 visitors each day, she said.
Jerstad said her grandma gets tired easily, but she’s in good health and is happy.
“My grandma is someone who finds delight in the small things. And she’s always been that way,” she said.
She was thrilled that they brought her a small bouquet of flowers that were her favorite color, and key lime pie — which she loves, but doesn’t eat any more — to share with the staff.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Good Samaritan Society spokesperson Tess Hedrick’s last name.