As I begin this blog, my retirement community (Kendal at Longwood, which I will simply call “Kendal”) has been dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak for about a month. Around the first of March, it became clear that the whole US would be hit hard by the virus (which had previously seemed to be contained in Washington and California). Kendal’s first official response was to require, for the first time, that visitors had to sign in and out at the front desk. That was March 5th. There were no reported cases in Pennsylvania, and life at Kendal continued normally.
On March 6th, the first two Pennsylvania cases were reported, and the governor declared a state of emergency. All visits to Kendal by outside speakers and performers were cancelled, and residents were asked not to attend large outside events. It began to seem likely to me that the virus would not be contained, and that the majority of Americans, including those of us at Kendal, would eventually get it. The problem was going to be keeping the medical system (including Kendal’s) from being overwhelmed.
The last large gathering at Kendal took place on Monday, March 9. It was the monthly meeting of the Kendal Residents Association in the auditorium, with perhaps 100 people attending. At that meeting, our new CEO, Lisa Marsilio, outlined the rapidly-changing plans that were being made to address the Covid-19 outbreak. It was clear that some serious restrictions were being contemplated. Indeed, by the end of that week, life at Kendal had changed dramatically.
Big changes. On Wednesday, March 11, the major disruptions in our community life began. Kendal isolated the personal care and skilled nursing sections of the central building. Those of us in “independent living” could no longer visit friends in the isolated area, and the residents there could not leave. There would be no sit-down dining service in the main dining room or the café. Instead, take-out food would be provided for us to eat in our individual “cottages”. There would be no gatherings involving 10 or more people (meaning that many committees would not meet, movies would not be shown, the chorus would not rehearse, and many other activities would be cancelled).The gym was shut down. Hand sanitizer dispensers started to appear everywhere.
By Friday, March 13, the potential scope of the Covid-19 crisis was evident. There were 1700 cases confirmed in the US (including 22 in Pennsylvania). The stock market was collapsing. President Trump declared a national emergency. “Social distancing” became the new buzzword. There were starting to be signs that US hospitals might not be able to cope with the crisis.
The Governor acts. On Monday, March 16, Governor Wolf ordered all “non-essential” businesses to shut down. For Jan and me, the main practical impact was that we would no longer be able to eat out at a restaurant, which we had been doing about once a week. In fact, aside from infrequent grocery shopping, we would be mostly staying in our cottage. Later in the week, staff members, and the few visitors that were permitted in, started being routinely checked for fever before being admitted.
On March 19, Governor Wolf’s shut-down order was extended to all “non-life-sustaining” businesses. At Kendal, the contractors doing facilities upgrades and the preparation of cottages for new residents had to stop their work. We wonder: what happens to the new residents who were about to move in, but whose cottages aren’t quite ready? They may already have sold their previous homes.
By March 23, Jan and I were spending most of our time at home in our cottage. We made breakfast and lunch for ourselves, and made brief forays to the Center to pick up supper and to fetch our mail. We saw friends in passing, and we emailed and texted back and forth. Various people had been looking at ways to conduct meetings on line, and it began to look like we would be implementing Zoom for that, to the extent possible. As is typical at Kendal, it was the residents who took the lead in figuring out the software and determining what could be done with just the free version and what would require a subscription (although the administration also developed plans for some official uses of Zoom in parallel).
Twice in the week leading up to March 23, we had eaten our take-out supper with friends (while maintaining social distance, of course), but we were beginning to worry about whether that was wise—what if one of us became an asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19? So, reluctantly, we stopped doing that. When the weather was good, we continued to go for walks in the woods, on the wonderful trail system in the arboretum shared by Kendal and its sister community, Crosslands. It was certainly nice to get out into nature. Still, life here was turning increasingly inward, and we could see it would be a long time before it got back to normal.
Lock-down comes to Kendal. On March 25, we learned that “hard closure” would be instituted the next day. That meant that we would not be able to go to the Center except brief visits two days a week, to pick up our mail. One meal a day would be delivered to us (we’d be on our own for other meals). All gatherings, regardless of size, would have to be avoided.
On Friday, March 27, I went to the Center to pick up our mail. I was checked for fever with a temperature gun, and I was asked questions about symptoms (fever, cough, etc.). I was given a green wristband and allowed in to retrieve our mail.
This is our new reality. We only see our friends in person if we happen to be out for a walk at the same time. Increasingly, our lives revolve around our computers and phones. Zoom is the new medium for getting together.
As I write this (March 28), there are over 100,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US, including over 2000 cases (and 23 deaths) here in Pennsylvania. Right here in Chester County, there are over 100 cases. I learned from a friend that there has been at least one case at Fair Acres, a county-run geriatric center with about 600 residents a few miles from here.
As far as we know, no one at Kendal has gotten the virus. But how would we know? A couple of viral diseases have passed through the community this winter, and some people have had fevers followed by persistent dry coughs—symptoms that seem similar to Covid-19. Kendal has no Covid-19 testing yet, and testing in our county only began to scale up two weeks ago.
Update as of 3-30-20: The Center is now totally closed. It remains to be seen how we’ll get mail. Anyone returning from the hospital or from a trip will be quarantined for “up to 14 days”. Medical care will be “via telemedicine”–I’m not sure exactly how that will work. We are advised to take extreme precautions if we must go grocery shopping.
Lisa, our CEO, writes that “it is projected that we are days away from experiencing the same trajectory as New York City.” And indeed, the number of Covid-19 cases in our area is growing rapidly. Chester County now has 146 cases (double the number 5 days ago) and one death.