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Oregon Seniors Concerned About COVID-19 But Taking It In Stride

It was a beautiful day outside the Edward Allworth Veterans' Home in Lebanon, Oregon. But hardly anyone was around. As of Saturday, eight residents at the home had tested positive for COVID-19 and the entire campus is on lockdown.

“It was a bit of a shock," said Harrison Hibbert a driver at the home. He takes residents to their doctor's appointments and is wiping down his van’s steering wheel, seats and anything he might have touched after touching residents.

“You get worried about these things, but as long as you keep washing your hands, keep yourself from touching your face. No picking nose and shaking hands," he smiled.

Long-term care centers across the state are restricting visitors, including reporters. More than 40 people infected with the new coronavirus have died in Washington state. The epicenter of the outbreak there is a senior living center in Kirkland. The first person to die in the pandemic in Oregon was a 70-year-old man being treated at the VA Medical Center in Portland.

Senior living and rehabilitation provider Avamere looks after about 2,800 elderly people in 18 facilities across the West. Vice president Maggie Hilty said they’ve been taking precautions since the end of last year.

“It’s a scary thing for those that are in the facilities right now because they are the most at risk, but, overall, the residents and families have been very grateful for the quick action,” Hilty said.

Older people are still dealing with all the usual maladies of age. But if they get sick now, they don’t know whether they’ve got the common cold or COVID-19.

John Gogol’s mother fell ill in Salem over the weekend and he spent four frustrating hours on the phone trying to get her tested.

“The only reason she wants the test is for her peace of mind, so she can sleep, which is important when you’re sick,” Gogol said.

His mother also wanted to be able to tell her friends that came to lunch over the weekend whether or not to worry. In the end, Gogol was told his mom didn’t qualify for a test because she hadn’t traveled outside Oregon.

While it’s hard to get into care facilities, residents can come out. Tuesday morning at the Lake Oswego Library Bette Boyd was attending a meeting of the local genealogical society. She’s in her 8os and lives at a small community for seniors called The Stafford.

Even before Oregon Gov. Kate Brown advised long-term care centers to limit visitors, Boyd said her home started restrictions and asked family members to stay away unless absolutely necessary.

“They have to come in one door, read the policy, sign in and use hand sanitizer if they need to come in," she said.

“It has changed the atmosphere because any person who is an outside activity leader … they are not coming right now. So we’ve been relying on DVDs.”

Boyd said she thought about not coming to the genealogy meeting because of the virus, but didn’t want to deprive herself. She said she’s seen a lot of viruses come and go in her time. But this one is perhaps the scariest — she thought that might be because information is being disseminated so frequently and breathlessly.

Seniors at the library vary on just how worried they are. Some give the virus a five out of 10, others a four and still others a zero, saying we just need to wash our hands.

But octogenarian Helen Lyons takes a more stoic view.

“Thinking back, my great-grandmother died in the 1917 flu epidemic, taking care of her family members," Lyons said. "And I thought, wouldn’t that be interesting if I died at about the same time 100 years later.”

<p>The Edward Allworth Veterans' Home in Lebanon, Ore., March 13, 2020.</p>

Kristian Foden-Vencil

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The Edward Allworth Veterans' Home in Lebanon, Ore., March 13, 2020.

<p>Driver Harrison Hibbert cleans down the van he uses to take veterans to the doctor.</p>

Kristian Foden-Vencil

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Driver Harrison Hibbert cleans down the van he uses to take veterans to the doctor.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He specializes in health care, business, politics, law and public safety.