Elderly Tampa couple separated while assisted living facility locked down due to COVID-19

(Courtesy: Maria Sanchez)

Betty and Steve Sanchez have been together for more than 50 years. But with assisted living facilities across the country on lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this has been the longest the couple has ever been apart.

Maria Sanchez says her 92-year-old father Steve is a resident at a South Tampa facility. Her 82-year-old mom Betty normally visits him three times a day so they can share breakfast, lunch and dinner together.

But as the coronavirus pandemic quickly worsened, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to lock down all nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state to protect the elderly population, which is at higher risk of complications due to the virus.

Sanchez says her family only had several hours' notice to come see her father before the building went into lockdown two weeks ago. The situation has taken a toll on both of her parents, she said.

"Emotionally, it's been very difficult for all of us, but especially for my dad," Sanchez told FOX 13. "He said he felt like we didn't want him anymore. It was so heartbreaking."

She said her parents have been by each other's sides for the past 50 years, and this is the longest they've ever been separated.

"He doesn't understand, he's so used to my mom opening his milk for him and doing all the things she does for him everyday," Sanchez said.

The situation is made harder due to the fact that her mom is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and her dad is mostly blind.

That's when one of the nurses arranged to bring her father down to the lobby so he and his wife could see one another through the locked glass door.

"[My mom] started crying the minute they wheeled him down," Sanchez recalled. 

She captured a photo showing the two as they stood about a foot apart with the glass door between them, placing their hands together.

"He's 90% blind, but he knew we were there and he could clearly hear us," Sanchez said. "He was just so happy to 'see' us and hear our voices."

And while the family knows the precautions are in place for a good reason, they hope the tide turns quickly so the loving couple can be together again.

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