LAKOTA, N.D. – Carmen Vasichek’s eyes smiled above her facemask as her husband, Bob, began to sing the words to one of his favorite Czech songs.

“In the garden, there are two roses just for you,” he crooned while Carmen, sitting 6 feet away, listened raptly, then delightedly clapped her hands when he finished the song’s verse.

The couple clearly appreciate their cherished half-hour daily visits at Good Samaritan Society-Lakota, even though COVID-19 safety protocol requires they be in a conference room, socially distanced, and wear face coverings. Before each in-person visit, Carmen, like others who want to enter the GSS-Lakota facility, has to call ahead and make an appointment.

Married for 52 years, the Vasicheks, both 75, have spent the majority of their time apart since July 2020, when Bob moved to Good Samaritan Society-Lakota. He made the decision to move to the nursing facility, from their home in Michigan, N.D., after his Parkinson’s disease worsened, but before the coronavirus pandemic had changed leave policies at GSS-Lakota.

“When I decided to come here, you could come and go if you wanted to,” he said. “I thought I would be home for Christmas or Thanksgiving, and even go to the casino.”

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Good Samaritan Society-Lakota, like other facilities, changed both its leave policy for residents and visitation policy for visitors when the pandemic hit last spring. The policy has been adjusted throughout the pandemic, depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in Nelson County. For example, when cases spiked, Carmen couldn't go inside the nursing facility, so she visited her husband from outside.

“They set up a chair outside his window, and I would visit him every day,” she said.

The two also talked on the telephone.

“We still do quite a bit,” she added.

“I listen,” Bob said, with a sly laugh.

Besides telephone calls, Good Samaritan Society-Lakota encourages its residents and their families to connect via Facetime or Zoom calls, said Anna Halvorson, GSS-Lakota administrator. The nursing facility also has tweaked the way it offers some of its activities so it could continue them.

Instead of gathering in a room to play Bingo, for example, GSS-Lakota residents socially distanced in the hallway. Meanwhile, staff sometimes dress in costumes, to alleviate boredom, when they serve coffee to residents who could no longer gather in a large room and visit.

“We’re really blessed to have a great staff,” Halvorson said.

During the times Carmen Vasichek was unable to visit her husband because of COVID-19 safety protocols, the staff at Good Samaritan Society-Lakota helped keep him from being lonely.

“I can’t say enough about the staff they have here,” he said. “The people here are really good.”

The Vasicheks understand why the COVID-19 safety protocols were implemented, and they support them.

“You have to get it before it spreads,” Bob said.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Halvorson said, noting that a reduction in COVID-19 cases in North Dakota during the past month, combined with the vaccinations that are available to help prevent it, are hopeful signs. More than half of the GSS-Lakota staff and 95% of the residents have been vaccinated, she said.

“I think the vaccine is really kind of our hope, our light at the end of the tunnel.”

One of Carmen Vasichek’s hopes is that she will no longer have to socially distance from her husband during their treasured time together.

“It would be better if I could give him a hug,” she said.