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San Diego Senior Care Facilities On Lockdown Due To Coronavirus

A sign posted outside of Belmont Village Senior Living in Sabre Springs expla...

Photo by Amita Sharma

Above: A sign posted outside of Belmont Village Senior Living in Sabre Springs explains the facility's new visitation rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As cases of the coronavirus continue to rise in San Diego County, senior care homes are banning all non-essential visitors.

“We have to protect our seniors from the world at large,” said Patricia Will, founder and chief executive officer of Belmont Village Senior Living, which operates 31 facilities, mostly in California.

The majority of the county’s senior residential homes — including skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care places — took the dramatic step last week, alongside other measures.

Nurses, caregivers, janitorial staff, food workers and suppliers are among the essential personnel allowed in. And they are required to answer questions about their health, recent possible exposure to the virus and have their temperature taken.

The coronavirus is known to strike seniors especially hard, mainly because of their age and underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart and lung ailments. An outbreak at a nursing home in Washington state has killed 29 people. The worldwide death rate from coronavirus for people 80 or over is nearly 15%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reported by Amita Sharma

On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom directed residents 65 and older stay at home. And on Monday, San Diego County barred all non-essential staff from entering long-term care facilities.

At senior residences throughout the county, all outings — field trips to local casinos or malls — are canceled. So are happy hours, live music and visits by children from area schools.

“We’re playing a lot more bingo,” said Rob Johnston, executive director at Casa Aldea, which is located in the county’s Santaluz area

He said many Casa Aldea residents are up to date on the spread of coronavirus and support the precautionary measures. He added that the center is encouraging facetime calls with family and friends and letter writing as a way to stay in touch with loved ones during the lockdown.

Will said seniors at the Belmont center located in Sabre Springs have also responded well to the new rules. Many are finding creative new ways to compensate for the restrictions, including playing charades or doing distance art.

“We have to remember that all of our residents have had very, very rich and wise lives and they are now sharing in all kinds of pastimes,” Will said. “They are writing scripts for people to act with social distancing. They are organizing art classes. They are organizing distant word games of all kinds.”

Will said the activities reduce stress, which is known to hamper immune systems.

Visitation exceptions are being made at care facilities for seniors at the end of life in most cases.

“If the next of kin has just gotten back from Italy, we’re sorry,” Will said.

Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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