When a friend ended a get-together in a park with “I don’t know when I’ll see you next,” it took me a few seconds to realize why she said that: It may be too cold to meet outdoors again for many months. She hasn’t seen friends indoors since the pandemic struck.
Another friend who has been seeing her mother on her porch worries about how they’ll get together in the cold.
Back in March, I thought that if there was any silver lining in the pandemic, it was that it hit when spring was coming. Warm weather furthered a semblance of normality as we met people for walks and chats on park benches. Now we face five or six months of figuring out how to connect with family and friends who can’t or won’t walk on icy sidewalks and whose vulnerability to covid makes indoor visits risky. (I don’t expect we’ll all be vaccinated soon.)
I worry about whether my siblings and I will be able to visit our mother over the winter. Mom has been doing well, probably due in no small measure to seeing family and friends on the outdoor terrace of her assisted living building.
Before we were allowed to visit Mom outdoors, my feelings about her isolation were conflicted. Of course vulnerable elderly people need to be protected. But loneliness has been shown to be a health hazard on a par with obesity and smoking. Lower one risk, increase another.
My concerns abated once outdoor visits began in June. My brother, who lives a half-mile from Mom, has been visiting three times a week. My sisters and I stagger our visits so one of us goes every week.
After shivering through last Thursday’s visit, I called the facility’s director to ask about plans for cold-weather visits. She said that they’re waiting for Governor J. B. Pritzker to give the go-ahead for indoor visits.
Pritzker may resist relaxing restrictions on long-term care facilities when Illinois’s covid cases are increasing, but I hope that he looks at new federal recommendations and at what other states are doing.
In guidelines released last month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services urged nursing homes with no new covid cases for two weeks to accommodate indoor visitation. Assisted living homes generally follow nursing home guidance.
“CMS recognizes that physical separation from family and other loved ones has taken a significant toll” on residents, the announcement said. The guidance instructs facilities to “accommodate and support indoor visitation” as long as the county’s positivity rate is below 10 percent and preventive practices are followed. Many of the preventive practices — such as requiring masks, social distancing, and scheduling and limiting visits — are already in place for outdoor visitation.
Granted, CMS is part of the lax-about-covid Trump administration, but states led by Democratic governors have started to allow indoor visits at congregate-living facilities. According to information compiled by AARP, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, and New York are among the states permitting indoor visits at residences that meet requirements.
If we can’t visit Mom indoors soon, I’ll push her home to help residents telechat on its computers. AARP is advocating for a federal requirement that homes support virtual visits between residents and families.
I don’t want to sound like Trump’s saying the cure can’t be worse than the disease, but emotional starvation is a health risk, too. As the cold weather arrives, we all need to determine — for ourselves and for loved ones who depend on us — how to replace the outdoor get-togethers that have kept up our spirits these last months.
If a senior citizen close to you lives in an assisted living or nursing home in Illinois, please think about contacting the governor’s office asking to be allowed to visit indoors.
ANTI-TRUMP COMMENTS: 134TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“It’s got to end. It is dangerous, not just for me and my family but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans.”
— Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, target of a right-wing kidnapping plot, accusing Trump of inciting domestic terrorism with his rhetoric