"I'm looking for a real hug, I'm not looking for a virtual hug."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis held a roundtable discussion Tuesday regarding COVID-19 at ElderSource in Jacksonville.
In attendance was Mary Daniel, a Jacksonville woman who just weeks ago was desperate to see her husband before the onset of Alzheimer's took away what memories remain.
First Coast News first told you about her story last month. Daniel stood outside her husband's window every day for 110 days at his memory care center.
"I see him disappearing in front of my eyes," she told First Coast News', Jeannie Blaylock. "And I'm starting to get mad. There has to be a better way."
After seeing her determination, the nursing care facility offered her a job as a dishwasher and she gladly accepted.
Since her story went viral, Daniel has been adamant about wanting to meet with Ron DeSantis to discuss a list of proposals that would make visitation easier for families just like hers.
On Tuesday she got her wish and doubled down on her demands for in-person visitation amid discussion from other panelists regarding safer alternatives, including animatronic pets and Ipads.
"I'm looking for a real hug, I'm not looking for a virtual hug," she said. "I love all these ideas but they need us. But I do like the small steps and I don't mean to disrespect them in any way."
"We don't want to be foolish, we don't want to make mistakes here. It's incredibly important that we do it right," Daniel told the Governor. "But I am truly confident that we are going to be able to get ideas and put them into implementation."
During the discussion, Ron DeSantis said that he would be open to the idea of allowing people with COVID-19 antibodies to enter nursing homes and longterm care facilities but that implementation of such a plan would be something that would need more planning.
He said the first step is to form a committee, solicit feedback and propose steps forward.
"Four and a half months is a long, long time," DeSantis said. "We've just got to look at this and say, 'Is there anything we can do right now, are there things we can do if certain indicators are met in a week, or two weeks, or a month?'"
Daniel will be a part of that newly-formed committee, along with the Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom and Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Mary Mayhew.
Casey DeSantis also reiterated the importance of mental health and applauded Daniel's efforts in doing everything in her power to see her husband.
"(Mary) found a way, and that really is truly the American spirit," said Casey DeSantis. "There are studies that talk about the importance of physical touch, what that does... just sitting and listening."
Daniel said she was appreciative of being included in the discussion and said she was confident that the group could come up with better solutions to help loved ones visit with family members in longterm care facilities and nursing homes.
"When I said to him today I am representing hundreds of thousands of people, I really mean that," she told First Coast News. "This is not my story, my story has opened the door for this story. I'm able to see Steve two days a week. But I'm selfish and I want more, just like they also want to get in and want more."
She said she hopes the plan they come up with will serve not only as a roadmap for Florida but for the country as a whole
Her Facebook page – Caregivers for Compromise, because isolation kills too – has almost 7,000 followers.