Relief in sight; Central Wisconsin seniors eager to roll up their sleeves
By Kris Leonhardt
CENTRAL WISCONSIN – As the COVID vaccine becomes available throughout central Wisconsin, it is bringing a sense of relief to those 65 and older as they make their way to vaccination sites.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently announced that adults age 65 and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Currently, health care workers and long term care staff and residents under Phase 1A, and police and fire personnel under Phase 1B are still in the process of being vaccinated. Phase 1B officially began on Jan. 18. This phase includes EMS, police and fire personnel, and adults age 65 and older. Phase 1B will be broken into smaller sub groups and prioritized based on risk and recommendations from the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) and state ethics committee,” a Wood County Health Department release stated.
The announcement has seniors eager to roll up their sleeves.
Like so many seniors across the state, residents at Stoney River Assisted Living, Marshfield, have sheltered in place as the facility adapts their delivery of care to the current environment.
Stoney River’s concierge, Betty Muehlbauer, longs for the day that they can fully open their doors.
“I want to open the doors of our community and welcome back our residents’ loved ones who have missed them so much,” Muehlbauer said.
Stoney River resident, Mary Lou Kirsch says that the last year has been very difficult for her.
“It was terrible. I just prayed that it would end, and we would get the vaccine in pretty soon,” Kirsch said, “and that we could get out. We have been in here for almost a year. It just wasn’t fun. We couldn’t go out of here. Family would get our things that we needed. We couldn’t visit our families over Christmas. If we did get out during the week to do things or to go with family, we would be isolated for two weeks and that wasn’t fun.
“I think of the older ladies here that never ever got out.
“I am thinking of the older people and what happened when I look at them and see what it has done to them. They look so old and crippled up.”
With seniors listed as high vulnerability, those living in facilities weren’t the only ones affected by isolation.
“My husband and I usually travel a great deal but have not done so since February. I normally spend a lot of time with family in various cities but now do that via Zoom. I haven’t been to a gym since last February nor to any restaurants, though we have done take-out,” Liz Fulton of Stevens Point said.
“I am so anxious to get the vaccine but will continue to use a mask and be careful.
“The hardest part was not getting together with family and friends in other places, but my husband and I have been very fortunate and have been healthy.”
Kate Giblin, health promotion coordinator of the ADRC of Portage County, says that while COVID is precarious, the isolation of seniors is equally dangerous.
“I think that it is hard for people to even conceive of how difficult COVID-19 has been for older adults,” Giblin said.
“It was hard for seniors to hear on the news that they were segmented into this group of potentially or perceptively less than everyone else; and then, in our community it was difficult, because young people and people who had to be at work (get out.)And, as we’ve progressed through this, we opened up more and more things – bars and restaurants and all of these things – and many seniors have been trapped.
“What the message was, was that if you were high risk or if you were a senior you should protect yourself and everyone else can just go about their lives.
“The logistics of protecting yourself in a community where the spread is pervasive is near impossible, so many, many, many seniors have curtailed their lives in extraordinary ways. Not just for a couple of weeks, but for we’re coming on a year.
“This has impact. I’ve talked to seniors who are saying things like they ‘don’t believe they will ever travel again.’ Because when you are 75-80 and you are looking at a pandemic that might last for years and years and years, that is a very concrete line or wall that has gone up for seniors.”
Giblin said that she had the pleasure of notifying several groups of seniors that the vaccine was opening up to them.
“Seniors have been asking me in the online groups, ‘When is one of the vaccines coming,’” she said. “They were immediately like, ‘Where can we get it? How can we get it?’ Because, they have been relegated out of sight in our community, and they are just trying to survive. It is very scary. They’ve sacrificed time with grandchildren; they’ve sacrificed holidays; they’ve sacrificed travel; they’ve sacrificed the things they did in the community – volunteer work.”
Opening the doors
But, the doors will open slowly and Giblin said that local programs are doing what they can to keep seniors engaged until the door is fully open.
“The ADRC and the Senior Center are tied to Health & Human Services. So we have a plan; those plans for reopening are predicated on community numbers,” said Giblin. “What I anticipate is that when vaccines become more widely available… once we can get more of our community immunized… what they will be looking for is those numbers to go down, for our number to get better, for the amount of community cases to get better. At that point, the health department and the ADRC will make a decision as to when we can move to the next phase of our plan.
“We are not going to see the senior center open until the last phase.”
The center currently offers online programs and group calls, but Giblin says that results in decreased numbers served.
“When we talk about older adults, we are talking about four different generations. It is not an all-in-one,” she explained.
“We are trying to do what we can, offering as much as we can.”
But, even through the isolation, seniors are thankful for the cautious steps that have been taken.
“It was a long road, but they were true to us here. We give them credit that I didn’t get the virus, so I was thankful for that,” said Kirsch.
“It’s a long trail, but it was worth it.”