Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of long-term care communities have patiently awaited the time when they could visit face-to-face with their loved ones. That desire was granted when the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) issued a directive permitting outdoor visitation beginning on June 21.As a faith-based ministry, United Methodist Communities (UMC) continues to focus on protecting its residents, clients and associates in the wake of COVID-19. In March, they formed a COVID-19 Response Team composed of organizational leaders representing all 13 locations, including the UMC facilities in Ocean City.“As summer of 2020 begins, the UMC COVID-19 Response Team has diligently worked on our reopening plan, The Road Forward. This complex and methodical process included input from a multi-disciplinary team of associates, as well as residents and families,” UMC President and CEO Larry Carlson said in a press release.The plan specifies appropriate policies, procedures, and safety measures for its full-service communities, affordable senior housing, and in-home care division, HomeWorks. UMC’s phased approach has four stages defined as the Red Zone, Orange Zone, Yellow Zone, and a Green Zone. Each is less restrictive than the one before.The primary objective of The Road Forward is to safely progress to the “new normal’ while minimizing the risk of spreading the virus. Transitioning from more to less restrictive zone brings greater risk, so as a protective measure, the team will closely monitor and make necessary adjustments.For example, a spike in cases may precipitate a step back to the previous zone. Rather than a “flip the switch” scenario, this will be a slow, methodical opening of services, which will take time and patience.The progression in all senior care organizations is driven by Gov. Phil Murphy, the NJDOH, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The CMS specifies seven distinct factors for states to consider in determining their approach. While we are all anxious to get “back to normal,” this is a fluid process that is subject to their continuing guidance.UMC’s Road Forward contains a recommended phased reopening that corresponds to the Federal Opening Up America Again guidelines, but also includes additional recommended criteria for moving through the phases. Each phase of reopening should lag each phase of reopening for the broader community by 14 days.UMC will be looking at each community and the homecare division with separate plans and timelines depending on each local situation. In some cases, different sections of a building may be in different zone at the same time depending on NJDOH directives and the current virus status.Understanding the challenges of quarantine, associates continue to be pro-active in keeping residents engaged with Zoom and Facetime calls, hallway activities, and birthday surprises. In addition to the outdoor visits, technology has aided contact between residents and their families.The Road Forward can be viewed online at UMC’s COVID-19 Response page at https://umcommunities.org/covid-19/. It specifies the criteria for testing and screening, movement within and outside the buildings, use of PPE including masks, social distancing, visitation, group activities, volunteer participation, salon, worship dining, and more.“We know we have a long journey ahead of us but with personal responsibility and everyone doing their part, we can open our buildings safely. Together we can ensure our UMC family experiences a bright future,” Carlson said. United Methodist Communities in Ocean City is a full-service care facility, from assisted living to hospice.