As Vermonters enter the third week under Gov. Phil Scott’s “stay home, stay safe” order, residents are grappling not only with loss of work and precautions to stay safe while shopping at the supermarket, but also with being separated from their loved ones.
Prime examples of this separation are the protocols to protect the people most vulnerable to the coronavirus — the elderly residents of nursing homes, independent-living and assisted-living facilities.
In attempt to prevent outbreaks such the one at Burlington Health and Rehab that has claimed the lives of seven residents, facilities that serve elderly residents have closed their doors to visitors, while residents themselves are self-isolating in their rooms or apartments.
At Copley Woodlands in Stowe — a 40-unit independent-living retirement community — 89-year-old Pat Haslam is dealing with the lockdown protocols that prevent her from having contact with her two daughters, while also finding healthy ways to pass the abundance of time she now has on her hands.
“I feel lucky because I have a lot of history projects to do,” said Haslam, who has published numerous books, including histories of Stowe and Greensboro, “but other people are bored out of their minds.”
While Copley Woodlands usually offers an array of activities to keep residents active and occupied, residents now stay in their apartments, venturing only out to collect the mail. And when they do go out, they are taking precautions.
“Everybody is wearing masks when they go out,” Haslam said. “That’s the only time I see anybody. My biggest thrill of my day is going down to get the mail.”
She also goes outside when the weather allows and walks laps around the courtyard.
Two months ago, Haslam began taking classes in the martial art of tai chi. That class, like other activities, is now suspended. However, she does maintain social relations with her fellow residents, even if they aren’t meeting face to face.
Haslam is an active genealogist, and in late February began teaching a class on the subject at Copley Woodlands. That class has been suspended, but she has leaned into her work and taken advantage of her available time to assist her neighbors.
“I slide the genealogy information under the door and leave,” Haslam said.
She also keeps in touch with neighbors by way of telephone and — for the more technologically savvy — video chat.
“Remember, we’re all old,” she said.
And, in a sign that print journalism is still alive and well, a task force of residents publishes a daily newsletter, with updates, announcements, cartoons and puzzles.
Among the things she misses are communal meals with her fellow residents, and the opportunity to chat in person. Instead, meals are left at the door of each resident’s apartment. However, they do get one visitor every day — a nurse who comes in to take their temperature.
From the outside looking in
Haslam went out her way to praise the staff at Copley Woodlands for their work and for the precautions they are taking to limit the spread of the virus — the doors are closed to the public in general, including family members.
“Copley Woodlands decided early to put them on lockdown early, which I’m really thankful for,” said Haslam’s daughter, Kate Paine. “But I’ve always been able to visit, and it’s hard because now I can’t.”
Haslam and Paine are able to see each other, albeit at a distance. Paine brings groceries to Haslam, and the two meet at the front of Copley Woodlands, each wearing masks.
And while some of Haslam’s neighbors might struggle with technology as they try to keep in touch with their loved ones outside, she knows her way around a computer, Paine said.
“She taught herself how to use a Mac when she was 70,” Paine said. “She can use email until the cows come home. She’s pretty savvy and I think it’s her preferred method of communication.”
Paine has also been teaching her mother how use her computer to video-chat.
“You can tell she’s not sure where she’s supposed to look, but she can hear me and can listen to my directions,” Paine said.
While technology can ease the pain of being separated from loved ones, it’s no substitute for the real thing.
“You take for granted that you can go visit anytime, and when you’re told that you can’t see them and can’t touch them, it’s really hard. I just want to hug her,” Paine said.
On a recent warm day, the two were able to see each other without masks, when Paine took a bicycle ride past Copley Woodlands. The two were able to talk, with Paine standing outside and Haslam standing on the balcony of her second-story apartment.
“The hard part about this is we just don’t know when it’s going to end,” Haslam said.
She does have one suggestion that might make life more manageable during this crisis.
“We wish that the governor would put hair salons on the essentials list,” Haslam said, referring to the list of business types that are exempt from the stay-at-home order. “Husbands are cutting wives’ hair. Wives are cutting husbands’ hair. None of us look good.”