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Families Of Developmentally Disabled People Protest New York's Coronavirus Group Home Restrictions

THIELLS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- They held up signs and raised their voices.

Families of developmentally disabled people living in group homes protested Thursday, demanding New York's coronavirus restrictions be loosened, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported.

The long months of mounting frustration were expressed vocally and visually at the demonstration in Rockland County. Most of the protesters have developmentally disabled children who live in New York group homes.

"I should be able to see her and I can't hug her, and I can't see her. It's breaking my heart and my family's heart. I'm a mom," said Gina Arena of the Westchester County town of Somers.


Starting in March, New York strictly limited visitation at group homes in order to protect the developmentally disabled from coronavirus, only in June allowing brief no-contact visits outside.

"Parents have been separated from their children for months, and they want that opportunity to see them for more than an hour, in the sun, outside," Newburgh resident Susan Havko said.

In addition to restricting visits at residential facilities, the policy prevents families from bringing their loved ones home for weekend visits.

Havko said her son is non-verbal, but is clearly distressed by not coming home on weekends.

"Everybody else in New York state has the freedom to go to many different places. Our kids don't have that freedom," Havko said.

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The protesters said unlike nursing home residents, their loved ones are not usually medically fragile, and believe restrictions could be loosened safely.

The state office that supervises the homes, known as OPWDD, said it understands the frustration and is working the Department of Health on reopening steps, but it's a process focused on safety.

"We hear the families of people with developmental disabilities and understand their frustration which is why we provided visitation guidance and were able to resume on-site visits in participating group homes all across New York State as of Friday, June 19. Unfortunately, while New York State has made great strides in flattening the curve, the COVID pandemic is far from over, and as we see record numbers of cases in most states around the country, OPWDD continues to work closely with the NYS Department of Health on reopening steps that will safely include home visits and community outings that take into account the safety of not just each individual, but also their housemates and staff, and we want to assure families that OPWDD's number one priority continues to be ensuring the health and safety of all the people we support," the organization said in a statement.

Advocates said they'll continue to raise their voices until they are heard.

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