New Jersey will once again allow visits to nursing homes and long-term care facilities beginning on Sunday -- Father's Day.

The announcement Friday comes as legislators continue to scrutinize the state's handling of its facilities for seniors in the novel coronavirus crisis. Several legislators and a group of state health department insiders who've spoken to multiple media outlets have criticized the state for allowing residents to return to senior care facilities, noting seniors are considered among the most vulnerable for COVID-19 complications.

They also say the state, in its rush to expand hospital capacity, didn't do enough to help facilities for seniors obtain protective medical equipment, and didn't monitor safety practices closely enough. More than 40 percent of the state's nearly 13,000 coronavirus deaths happened in such facilities.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday visits were being allowed in part to help combat the stress of isolation for senior home facilities and their families. New Jersey has not allowed guests to the homes since March, when executive orders by Gov. Phil Murphy shut down most public-facing businesses and directed residents to stay at home whenever possible.

"We all know being apart from our loved ones has been one of the most difficult challenges for all of us during this pandemic," she said.

The state will also allow visits to dementia care homes, pediatric transitional care homes and comprehensive personal care homes. But in all cases, they'll be subject to several restrictions.

Visits will only be allowed in designated outdoor spaces, with staff members and all participants wearing surgical masks as well as practicing social distancing. Visitors will be screened and won't be allowed past front reception desks.

Senior home facility residents who have recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus or who are in quarantine because of possible exposures won't be allowed visitors. Seniors who tested positive previously, but who have since recovered or been asymptomatic long enough to exit quarantines will be able to have visitors.

Persichilli said senior homes won't be allowed to transport residents through areas where COVID-19 patients are cohorted.

Guests will have to sign forms acknowledging the risk of contracting the virus, and promising to report to the homes if they develop symptoms within 14 days.

Homes can start scheduling visits immediately, but won't be able to accept guests until Sunday.

"We know that it has been a long, hard three months for residents and families," Persichilli said.

READ MORE: Shops and outdoor dining reopen in NJ


More From New Jersey 101.5 FM