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Son of first Brazos County COVID-19 death still mourning the loss of his mother as nursing homes reopen

Posted at 5:17 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 20:09:01-04

COLLEGE STATION, TX — It has been one year since the first COVID-19 death was reported in Brazos County. Estella Aguirre was in her 90s and was a resident at a local assisted living center in College Station.

“I still wake up in the morning sometimes, wanting to hear my mom talk with me… It’s been kind of tough because my mom was the matriarch of the family and we had been without my dad for about 27 years when she passed away, so it was tough to lose her,” said David Aguirre, one of Estella’s five sons that live in College Station.

Since March 28, 2020, there have been a total of 235 deaths in Brazos County from COVID-19. As of April 1st, there has been a total of 47,404 in the state of Texas.

“It was even harder still seeing so many other people, not only in our community but around the country, around the world, that were also losing their lives to the same pandemic,” said Aguirre.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been hit the hardest over the last year. For the first five months of the pandemic, facilities were closed to visitors in order to protect our most vulnerable population. According to state data, nearly 9,000 nursing home residents have died of COVID-related causes, accounting for some 20% of all Texas coronavirus deaths.

“I know, had my mom survived all of this, it would have been hard for her during the shutdown, not being able to see family, so I can’t imagine how difficult it has been for those residents that have fortunately survived, but yet, have not been able to see their families and loved ones,” said Aguirre.

According to the Texas Tribune, Texas has about 1,200 nursing homes with about 90,000 residents. Last month, Texas Health and Human Services announced vaccinated Texas nursing home residents can have unlimited hugs and visits from their loved ones as long as the facilities permit it. Myles Holyfield with Legacy Nursing and Rehabilitation of Bryan, says, being able to allow visitation is very exciting for everyone, especially given the last year.

“We were very excited about the relaxations of restrictions related to visitation for nursing homes. It’s been a frustrating path for the residents, families, us as operators and employees because we were so used to having visitation; folks in and out of the building, and then when all that stopped last year, it was obviously an abrupt halt and we have been struggling with it ever since,” said Holyfield.

Under new rules, nursing homes may now allow personal contact, outdoor visitation even if there is an outbreak at the facility, unlimited time on visits, and unlimited end-of-life visits. In an effort to allow residents to see their family members and loved ones, Holyfield says, Legacy Nursing & Rehab has parameters in place to protect the residents while allowing visitations.

“Outdoor visits are what CMS and CDC promote, that is their preference, so we want to accommodate any outdoor visits and we are set up to do that. Indoor visitors are another matter. We still have to screen every single person, there's a limitation on the number of outside people we want in our building so that we can make sure all of our mitigation efforts are still being followed,” says Holyfield.

And while the last year has been one of the toughest for many, Aguirre says, having a family to lean on has helped them get through the past year.

“We’re Hispanic, so we have a huge family unit and all of them have been there whenever we needed some support, they’ve been there for us, so that’s important. That’s helped to some extent get beyond this,”

The Aguirre family has not been able to bury Estella Aguirre due to the pandemic but hopes to do so in October. The family says getting vaccinated will protect others from losing a loved one to the virus-like them and so many others out there.