As with so many of our elderly, my 90-year-old mother Ginny is entering her 11th month trying to live her life at a senior living facility in Florida while simultaneously facing the confines of a relentless pandemic. It’s been hard. She’s been in full lockdown, experienced some freedoms last fall as restrictions eased, and currently, she has returned to lockdown. Now her residential community is mirroring national COVID-19 trends as the post-holiday surge recently crept into her safe world.
Realizing that no contact with families over an extended time increased a regression in mental health, the management offered the residents the choice to leave to be with family for the holidays as long as they pledged to wear a mask, social distance and self-quarantine upon their return. And as always, staff associates continued to take their own precautions including having their temperature taken before each shift. But this time, all of the safety measures haven’t been enough.
We are now receiving almost daily emails about new cases affecting both residents and staff. (As a contrast, we learned of only one positive test over the first seven months of the crisis.) Here is the recent list:
Jan 4 – 2 staff
Jan. 7 – 1 staff
Jan 11 – 2 staff
Jan 14 – 2 residents
Jan. 15 – 2 staff
Jan 18 – 2 staff
Jan 19 – 7 residents (all in Assisted Living)
Jan. 21 – 2 staff
Jan. 25 -2 staff
Jan. 26 – 6 residents
And strangely, this is all against the backdrop of good news: all residents were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine on January 11th. How could so many residents test positive so many days after receiving the shot?
“The CDC said it can take weeks for a person’s body to build up immunity after getting vaccinated” according to a USA Today article.
“A person could be infected with the virus just before or just after vaccination and get sick,” the agency said. “This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.”
Nicole Iovine, an infectious disease expert and hospital chief epidemiologist at University of Florida Health, said it takes the average person 10 to 14 days to build up a protective number of antibodies, but each person is different.
“Every day that goes by, the chance you get infected goes down a little bit,” she said. “Any individual person may make an immune response faster or slower than average.”USA Today Jan. 5th 2021
This is valuable information, but it doesn’t explain how residents could be “newly” infected (right before or right after the shot) since their circumstance has them in lockdown. They have been staying in their apartments since late December with all staff taking heightened protocols. It is well past the 2 to 14-day incubation period if someone was away for Christmas or New Year’s. Where is it coming from? I guess all it takes is one asymptomatic person on Day 5 or 7 or 9 to unknowingly pass it to one other person and so on, thus re-setting the clock and incubation period each time. Ultimately, the vaccine has got to be the stone wall breaking that progression very soon.
So far, there has been no reporting of any deaths, but I’m not sure that data is required to be shared either. There are further complications with that as deaths occurs somewhat regularly within these communities. Did the person die from COVID or something else?
In terms of the virus, it feels like we are living a real-time version of the adage “a race against the clock.” How many new cases will there be before the vaccine takes control? My hope is that we have seen the peak, and January 19th is the worst of it. They will receive their second shots at the beginning of February. I simply cannot consider the concept of new variants right now.
I spoke with Ginny the day after her first shot. “They had me going back and forth to my room. They had my birth date wrong; maybe that was why. I finally did get it and it didn’t hurt one iota. I thought I might get a headache, but nothing. I was really tired last night.” I agreed that it sounded like a long day. But a good one.
While she stays in her apartment, she leaves the door open sometimes and sees her 101-year-old neighbor across the hall. They chat at a safe distance. She tries to watch T.V. and read. She is allowed to go downstairs to pick up the groceries my sister drops off every ten days or so. Her independent living apartment is on a higher floor with a picturesque view of a lake and part of a golf course and I encourage her to go out on her screened-in lanai for fresh air and a mental change of pace. On some days, I *think* she ventures out.
And speaking of venturing out, there is talk that those in Independent Living may soon be free to move around inside the facility since the residents who tested positive are all in Assisted Living and since everyone has had their first shot.
Day by day, almost hour by hour, the residents are building up an immune response; getting closer to safety. It won’t be long until we can turn the page on the calendar to February and on this virus too.
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