All of us play a role in protecting seniors from COVID-19

By EDITORIAL BOARD Star Tribune  AUGUST 16, 2020 — 6:00PM

Melanie Van Wyhe of Stillwater kept count of the days that COVID-19 visitor restrictions kept her from hugging her mom, Margaret, who resides at a long-term care center. The tally: a heartbreaking 126.

The anguish from the long wait could still be heard in Van Wyhe’s voice as she shared her family’s story during a recent Minnesota Health Department conference call. It’s no wonder. While coping with the pandemic has been challenging for all, seniors and their families had to endure long months where the only safe contact was through a window, a phone or videoconferencing.


Visitation policies eased this summer, with outdoor and some indoor visits now possible. But a worrisome resurgence of cases in long-term settings, both among residents and staff, have state health officials and caregivers concerned.


The virus doesn’t magically appear in senior care settings. Instead, its presence reflects its spread in the community, where staff and family visitors live. And that’s why all of us play a role in preventing the Van Wyhes and others from having to endure long separations again.


Social distancing, wearing masks, vigorous hand-washing and other hygiene practices are easy but important measures that can contain the virus. Getting it under control outside elder care settings helps stop it from getting inside them, which is why state long-term care providers should be heeded as they ask everyone to take these precautions.


"We have to rely on society to help us with social distancing and masking and not putting themselves in precarious situations," said Erin Hilligan, vice president of operations for Ebenezer, the senior housing arm of Fairview Health Services.


To those who still have misgivings about masks or other measures, "Think about the vulnerable population, their caregivers and their visitors and know that you’re serving them," said Nathan Johnson, CEO of PioneerCare in Fergus Falls. " 


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