This time last year I was self-isolating at home. Not by choice, of course, but as a result of a newly implemented policy at work: anyone who had recently traveled to Asia or Italy had to quarantine for 14 days. Coincidentally, I was in Rome the weekend of the Italian COVID-19 outbreak just days prior. Despite having spent nearly a week back in the community and the fact that I felt fine, no exceptions would be made. I could’ve never anticipated how much life would change upon my return to our assisted living.
Our residents have been locked down for nearly one year. Research has found that chronic social isolation and loneliness can alter gene activity in ways that increase one’s risk of diseases like dementia. They can also suppress our immune system and cause depression. None of these effects are shocking and, sadly, I can personally attest to witnessing them all. Others, however, have honestly surprised me.
We wrapped up our vaccine clinic this month with over 95% of residents receiving the Pfizer shot (woohoo!). The Department of Health has yet to release new post-injection guidelines, which has us extra anxious for change. I decided to send out a simple Google poll with one of my weekly updates to gauge how everybody’s feeling: would they be comfortable at least opening internally following the administration of the second dose? Or did they prefer we keep residents quarantined?
To clarify, it wasn’t family responses that surprised me. They were a unanimous “YES, please resume communal dining and group activities”. Residents, on the other hand, answered differently. A shocking 30% of those polled said NO. Why? Because they’re afraid. The same people who initially said we were being soft, who have experienced so much in their lives (i.e., full blown war), are fearful. They’re scared of returning to normalcy, of the virus itself. Maybe it was naïve to think they wouldn’t be, but it makes me so, so sad to know that they are. For some reason, this side effect is extra heartbreaking.
I guess I’m scared too. I’m afraid to make the wrong decisions, to encourage and comfort them but have it backfire. No matter what, though, I know we can’t keep doing this. We need to take our chances; slowly and safely, we have to reunite, bravely fighting fear, loneliness, and this virus together.