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N4T Investigators: Inside Sapphire – UPDATE

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The pandemic has hit Arizona nursing homes especially hard.

From the beginning, the News 4 Tucson Investigators have been following exclusive developments inside one of those facilities.

As of this week, Sapphire of Tucson has reported more than 350 COVID-19 cases.

Sadly, 49 patients have died.

Now, the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine is giving hope to those who have not been able to see or hug their loved ones in more than a year.

"The first vaccine, you know, felt sore. Second one, I felt a little a bit more sore, but it wasn't anything too bad," Sapphire of Tucson resident, Joseph Gonzalez told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Last March, Sapphire of Tucson was among the first in our state to report multiple cases of COVID-19 inside their facility.

In an e-mail to the News 4 Tucson Investigators, Sapphire's Healthcare's Regional Director of Operations, Alex Bejar told us they had several rounds of vaccinations offered to all residents and staff on January 6th, February 3rd and March 3rd.

Bejar says they have not had any new cases in about six weeks, and residents will soon be able to see their loved ones face to face.

"I keep in touch with them over the phone, but you know, it's not the same as actually seeing people in person," Gonzalez told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Sapphire is rolling out a limited visitation policy and plan set to be in place starting April 5.

It is a another critical step to help ease the physical and mental toll the pandemic has taken on long-term care residents in our state.

"I know how important visitation is, and I know what a terrible cost there is to the kind of social isolation and loneliness that people experience when they can't get those really so important visits," said W. Mark Clark, with the Pima Council on Aging.

Bejar also told us in part, "Vaccinations have been extremely helpful and we are seeing community spread decrease significantly. We are very happy that our residents will once again be able to see their loved ones face to face."

Bejar says the plan is to reopen visitations for our residents while still strictly adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines.

For his part, now fully vaccinated, Gonzalez tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators he is looking forward to some much-needed family time.

"I'm really excited. I haven't seen my dad in quite a while in-person. Just - my friends and family - I haven't seen anybody in a while."

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

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