Seniors, who are more at risk from the coronavirus, have found new ways to adapt to isolation and virus restrictions.
After the Astoria Senior Center closed in March, Larry Miller, the center’s executive director, made phone calls to seniors to check in. He let them know he would available if they ever need assistance with technology, medical needs, requesting food through Columbia Senior Diners or just someone to talk to.
Miller thinks most seniors are doing OK. Some are staying connected through weekly exercise and educational classes on Zoom and through small group activities.
“We’re trying to get the people, in essence, out of their homes without leaving their homes,” he said. “People need to talk to people.”
Some seniors living in long-term care facilities have seen social connections improve after Gov. Kate Brown allowed for outdoor visits in July and indoor visits in November.
Residents living at Clatsop Care Health District facilities can schedule visits with two people at a time for about 30 minutes in designated rooms.
Launa DeGiusti, the administrator at Clatsop Retirement Village in Astoria, said that between seniors’ daily routines, relationships within the facility and increased visitation, she believes seniors are doing well.
Through the pandemic, staffers have tried to adapt to the restrictions and come up with creative ways to give residents some semblance of normal life by utilizing virtual platforms and small group activities.
“I think that their well-being has definitely improved over time,” DeGiusti said. “We’re doing everything we can, and we’re happy to do anything we can, to keep people safe and keep them connected to their family.”
However, the indoor visits are not guaranteed if virus case counts continue to rise.
Coronavirus cases have surged statewide in the fall, driven by social gatherings, students returning to school and cooler weather.
Gov. Kate Brown announced a two-week pause on social activities in nine counties, including the Portland metro area, to help slow the spread of the disease.
The restrictions include pausing indoor visits at long-term care facilities, urging all businesses to mandate work from home, reducing restaurant capacity and other indoor activities and limiting social gatherings.
The state’s moves replace the county watch list process, which Clatsop County went through in October following an increase in virus cases after Labor Day and an outbreak at Pacific Seafood in Warrenton.
Although DeGiusti recognizes the importance of social connection for seniors, she has some apprehension about indoor visits.
She said she is constantly reminding residents and visitors to stay vigilant, which upsets some people at times.
As the holiday season approaches and more people are confined to indoor activities, she feels scared about the increased possibility of the virus coming into the retirement village.
“We’re doing everything possible,” DeGiusti said. “We’re sanitizing, screening people, but it just takes one person. And I think what I really would like to get through to everyone is, even if you don’t feel sick, you could have the virus, and everybody that comes in is one more potential person to bring it in.
“So I really ask that people be cautious when they’re thinking about who they’re bringing in and why they’re coming in.”
Sandra Ford, of Astoria, said she worries about seniors who live in long-term care facilities, apartments or other situations that make them more confined.
She said the restricted visits have been dire for some of her friends who went months without being able to see family or friends in person. She also tries to keep in touch with seniors she doesn’t see at church anymore.
“I do worry a lot about seniors that we’re not getting in contact with, that ... they’re really struggling with depression,” Ford said.
Ford spends time at the beach, working in her yard, participating in exercise classes through the senior center and visiting with her daughter.
Typically, she would be looking forward to spending the holidays with her family in a vacation house, but she said they decided to cancel this year.
“It’s kind of hard not to be able to look forward to things like that,” Ford said, adding that it is easier since she does not feel confined.
Veja Lahti attends dance classes through the senior center and at the Astoria Arts and Movement Center. She also has enjoyed spending time outdoors and walking her dogs.
Lahti said she has noticed seniors adapt to the pandemic in different ways.
“I have learned to respect how different people want to manage their life,” she said. “For me, I am a single person and so I decided that I do not want to be quarantined at home — I don’t think it would be healthy for me.”
She limits her contact to people she feels safe around, which she calls her “bubble.” Other friends have been self-quarantining since the beginning of the pandemic, but she said she thinks they are doing OK.
Miller continues to contact people who used to visit the senior center. He said it is important for people to communicate with each other in the ways they can.
“Communication between people who can’t physically visit each other, I think that’s really important,” he said. “It’s someone from the outside at least saying, ‘Hi,’ and they’re not sitting in that house watching TV and talking to no one.
“I think it means a lot.”