Senior Citizens During a Pandemic


By Martha Johnson

Before our brave new world, Joe’s party would have brought dozens of residents and family to a huge celebration in our largest party room.  Because Joe is one of the most beloved residents in our building.  Sharp as a tack, witty and feisty, he is universally appreciated for the vigorous fight he led as a finance committee member to find wonderfully higher interest rates for our cooperative’s savings.  (Why should that be a fight?  But it was – against a calcified bureaucracy.)  Everyone was so sad when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  He now uses a walker.  He is lucky to be the same person in all ways except mobility and dexterity.  Joe is one of the truly vulnerable, yet he is life-loving, strong, and tenacious.

Early on, experts warned us that senior citizens and people with chronic health conditions would be the main victims of COVID.   That has proven true.  As of 4-29, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said 99% of Minnesotans dying from COVID were elderly (over 65) or had an underlying health condition.  Eighty-three percent of deaths have been in those aged 70 or older although that age group represents only 22% of positive cases.  The median average age of death from COVID in Minnesota is 83.  Although last week a 30-year old Minnesotan died. 

Seniors live in many different residential circumstances.  Many still own their own homes or live in other private residences.  But many live in senior congregate living situations, including assisted living or nursing home situations.  Distancing and hygiene (like masks) restrictions on congregate living residents have been in place longer and are stricter than for people living in other situations.  Yet according to a Minnesota Public Radio report on 4-22, 70% of COVID fatalities can be traced to long-term care situations which includes other than senior citizens. 

There is nothing we can do about our age or our chronic disease status.  And now is not probably the time we would change our residence.  (The largest percent, 53, of positive cases come from private residences.  Twenty percent of positive cases are long-term care or assisted living. Other identified residence types are 1-2% each).  BUT WE CAN – stay home; wash our hands; wear masks on necessary away-from-home trips; practice social distancing; eat well, stay active and get some sleep.  I try to do these things not just for myself.  NO WAY do I want to bring a germ into my building that might strike Joe.  Let’s stay well and count our blessings.

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Wednesday was the 90th birthday of my neighbor in the 77-unit senior housing cooperative where I live. Let’s call him Joe.  I have the best view in the building of Joe’s patio.  The 4 lawn chairs were arranged about 5 feet outside the patio gate by 11 am.  Festive balloons decorating the patio appeared about ten minutes later.  Shortly after noon, Joe’s children, grandkids, and probably great grandkids, started visiting 4 at a time.  That parade continued all day.  Joe and his wife never (that I saw) left the patio itself.  A meticulous Social Distanced Small Group party.