Thanksgiving for seniors in a pandemic


SIDNEY – While the COVID virus still stalks the population, Thanksgiving 2021 has professionals in a balancing act that both protects their senior citizens from infection in Auglaize and Shelby counties while still nurturing the human need of contact with loved ones. Although the health profession has learned more about coping with infection, local health representatives are asking that the population follow COVID protocols to keep seniors safe as infection numbers rise across the country.

The Landings of Sidney activities director Avery Howell says that one distancing adjustment was to provide a drive-through Thanksgiving on Nov. 23 instead of a large indoor event in their facility. They provided six complementary dinners to go home with their senior family member, so that they can celebrate away from crowded restaurants. After last year’s almost total isolation, care professionals recognized that seniors along with anyone else, need human contacts.

As to precautions, Howell asked that anyone with any signs of symptoms not expose their senior or anyone else by staying away. The senior can decide whether to come home the same day or stay overnight. “They are their own persons,” she said of the approximately 60 persons who live at the Landings. The Landings provide assisted living and memory care.

She said other outside activities are planned. “For example, we will be in the Winter Wonderland parade Dec. 4, with the residents inside the Landings van, masked and distanced.” She said they are beginning to do extra outside trips as well. Howell also said the residents love receiving holiday cards.

Shelby County Health Department Director of Nursing Erica Lentz agreed that precautions are wise since Shelby County has one of the lowest rate of immunizations in the state, with only 32.86% county residents vaccinated against Covid. The rise of infections increased as Fall season season approached. “In June 2021, there were 48 reported cases of Covid infection,” she said. “But by October 2021 the number had jumped to 637.” She said the numbers are expected to rise. “Last year in November and December there were over 2000 cases per month.”

In Auglaize County, Otterbein St. Marys Senior Life Community life enrichment director Yvonne Miller said they also are abiding by Covid protocols while bringing in entertainment to their almost 250 residents. “For example, all the members of the Western Ohio Tuba Quartet appearing on Nov. 23 were vaccinated.” She said that, “As to meals, since residents cannot eat in the dining room, residents and their families can opt to either eat in their rooms or take to-go meals out.”

She said opening up and adjusting schedules was critical to deal with the negative emotional effects of isolation during the original shutdown last year.

“In my 35 years in health care, I had never seen the crazy scary aspects of COVID,”she said. “So much was unknown about the disease, it was emotionally draining to the residents and the staff. So many need a caring, loving human touch to stay healthy and positive.” For example, she said, at the height of the pandemic last year, Miller said she sat with a resident who could not attend her child’s funeral. “It was heart-breaking.”

Howell said they were all excited when the vaccine became accessible. “We just did not understand how we take life for granted.” She added using the proper precautions like vaccines, masks and frequent testing was critical. “We have an almost unlimited supply of COVID testing kits.”

Auglaize County Health Department Health Commissioner Oliver Fisher said their county also show a substantial rise in COVID cases while the vaccination rate stays low, with only 35.95% of the population taking the jab.

“In August, we recorded a rise of 221 cases. By Nov. 18, the number had risen to 799.5 and is still rising,” Fisher reported. Their website shows they have a daily report of 76.3 cases per 100,000 people.

Even with the introduction of vaccines in March 2020, the CDC has reported that the number of 2021 COVID-19 deaths in United States has exceeded the total number of fatalities from the virus in 2020. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of late Sunday showed a total of 770,461 people nationwide have died of the Coronavirus since February 2020, when that information began to be recorded. In 2020, there were an estimated 377,883 fatalities compared with about 392,578 in 2021 thus far. About 59.1 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

The CDC said Friday the seven-day average of daily new cases was 88,482, a 16.1% increase from the previous week. “The level of community transmission in the U.S. remains high and cases are increasing,” the agency said.

By Sandy Rose Schwieterman

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.

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