Ten days ago, I began to receive an unsettling drumbeat of emails from the senior residential community where my 91-year-old mother Ginny lives.
August 28th: “We now have 2 confirmed cases in Memory Care.”
August 29th: “we currently have two (2) positive cases in Memory Care and two (2) positive cases in Assisted Living.”
August 30th: “Currently we have (3) three residents in Memory Care that have tested positive and (3) three in Assisted Living that have tested positive.”
August 31st: “Currently the positive cases are increasing in Memory Care.” (Note the absence of a number.)
When we moved Ginny to this new home in March, they were quite proud (and rightly so) that they had remained Covid-free since their grand opening in the summer of 2020. This achievement, however, proved to be unsustainable. The highly contagious Delta variant had somehow slipped inside their doors and began to infect their living space in a horribly rapid manner.
I thought I should include the dates and daily counts from the emails to illustrate how quickly Delta can escalate inside a “typical” lay-out of a senior facility. And here’s the latest: at least 10 residents in Memory Care now have Covid. This information was not sent by email, but rather, a text sent to my sister. It’s a feeling of a wildfire jumping to and through the vulnerable.
How did this happen? Well, for one reason, we are now learning that being vaccinated does not guarantee long-term safety anymore as the experts are realizing that the vaccine efficacy fades over time. With seniors getting their shots first, that would place them in the January 2021 timeframe. Also, we don’t know if all the staff and visiting family members chose to get vaccinated in the first place. Add this to the particular virulency of Delta and it would be difficult to maintain a Covid-free status.
Presently, we are being told that the residents who did test positive are experiencing only cold-like symptoms which is encouraging. I would like to think that the symptoms are minor because all the residents were vaccinated, but that would mean that there was a breakthrough rate of over 70% in the Memory Care area which sounds impossible. I am happy to report that mom, who resides in Memory Care, remains one of the healthy ones.
But there is a concerning domino effect. Some staff are now out sick too, which means fewer hands doing more work, and I’m afraid that could lead to a whole different set of problems like checking on them less while they are in their rooms. Ginny had slipped off her bed about a month ago and bruised her chin; a resident’s status can change in a short 30 seconds.
Although they will not use the word “lockdown”, they’re strongly encouraging family not to visit at this time. If we choose to do so, we must enter through the front door, do a temperature check, sign in and then return outside and walk to the Memory Garden to meet our loved one at a visitation stand set up with plexiglass.
Personally, I was all ready to visit mom earlier in August for her birthday, but they had tightened protocol even then; perhaps because of that emerging vaccine research. Or maybe a staff member had tested positive. I don’t know. At that point, family members could still enter the building, but there was no meal-sharing and they needed to stay in their loved one’s room for the entire visit which would not have worked for us since Ginny’s room is quite small. Plus, I wanted to share a lunch and enjoy some cupcakes with her.
What I did do, is send a present I hope she liked. On previous visits, she refused to let us hang small, framed original watercolors on the walls which had been painted by her father. She was afraid of theft. So, I took a photograph of one watercolor I own and blew it up and framed it. She can either place it on her dresser or we will hang it during our next visit. I mailed it with a note reassuring her that it is only a photograph and therefore “safe” to display. I liked its title: San Miquel: Pigeons at Daybreak. The promise of a brand-new day always feels optimistic.
There have been no further emails since August 31st. I interpret this as there is no good news yet. In their defense, the last email we did receive stated “We are working on hiring a cleaning crew and clinical to help us during this difficult time. We are asking for everyone’s patience as we work through this.”
They are trying the best they can. Like thousands of concerned family members who have loved ones in senior homes, we are once again in a holding pattern, hoping for the best.