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UPMC And State Give Conflicting Social Distancing Advice On Mother's Day Visits

Lynne Sladky/AP
Carmel Cooper, left, enjoys a beverage with her mother Anat Cooper as they have a picnic lunch in Miami's Design District shopping area to celebrate Mother's Day, which is Sunday, during the new coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Miami.

Should you visit your mom this Mother’s Day? A doctor from Pennsylvania’s largest medical system says yes, while the Pennsylvania Department of Health seems to disagree.

On Thursday, UPMC’s Dr. Donald Yealy said people should be able to safely meet with their moms on Sunday.

“Having a visit with your mother, in a small group, with appropriate distancing and all the usual hygiene precautions makes a lot of sense,” he said.

The state Department of Health has repeatedly told Pennsylvanians that under a stay-at-home order people should only leave home for life sustaining activities. When asked by reporters about this apartment contradiction, Yealy said he didn’t think his advice went against the state’s directive.

“Visiting another adult who is not in a nursing home facility, is not immuno-compromised or frail, and having contact at a distance, for a short period of time without a congregation, is actually not outside any state guidelines,” he said.

Later on Thursday, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine was asked her thoughts on Mother’s Day visits. She said people under stay-at-home orders should not venture out.

“The safest thing you can do for yourself, the safest thing you can do for your mother and your family and your community is to do that visit virtually,” she said.

On Friday the stay-at-home order expires in 24 counties in north central and northwestern Pennsylvania. Levine said people in these counties could visit with family on Sunday.

She did not address whether it was all right to meet outdoors at a distance, but has discouraged unnecessary travel since it could lead to stops at gas stations and public restrooms. 

Both Yealy and Levine agree that people should not visit nursing homes, as those facilities have a large number of medically frail and elderly residents. But UPMC senior living facilities are arranging parking lot meetings on Sunday, so people can visit with their families at a distance.

This is not the first time UPMC has defied the state Department of Health during the pandemic. The medical system continued to perform elective surgeries after the state directed hospitals to stop these procedures in preparation for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients.

UPMC did eventually cut the amount of routine care it was performing. Though it again ignored the state by deciding to ramp up operations before the state said it was appropriate to do so.

WESA receives funding from UPMC.