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Elder Care: Have restrictions been too one-sided?
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Elder Care: Have restrictions been too one-sided?

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Keystone Elder Law logo 2016

As a child, before video games and central air conditioning, I would sometimes complain to my mother: “There’s nothing to do!” Since in any season I could ride my bike to the park and join in a pick-up game of some sport, my mother would respond: “Go outside and play!”

My wife recently shared a cartoon of two retired men sitting on a park bench. One reported to the other, “My wife said, ‘Watcha doing today?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ She said, ‘You did that yesterday.’ I said, ‘I wasn’t finished!’” You may guess why my wife gave me that cartoon.

We have central air, a comfortable chair and an expanded cable package. I get my social interaction at the office. Isn’t it too hot to go outside for a walk?

I have a co-worker who could use that excuse, but hasn’t. She has lost more than thirty pounds by walking and watching what she eats. She looks younger and is more energetic. I find myself thinking stupid thoughts like, “I wish I could do that!”

Although I make weekly trips to the grocery store out of necessity, I avoid the risk of dining among less disciplined patrons of those restaurants which are open. That’s my choice, and I have no reason to complain.

Most of the restrictions that limit my options are governmentally imposed. Are they necessary? Should an individual have the right to assume the risk? And yes, I’m still referring to COVID-19 and not the freedom to choose whether to wear a motorcycle helmet.

Early in the pandemic, the potential damage from COVID-19 was unknown. Trillions of dollars and nearly a hundred and fifty thousand deaths later, it is natural to question when the pandemic will end, and whether the current restrictions are too severe.

Have the economic and social costs, and the collateral deaths such as from people whose medical procedures were delayed, been judged to be acceptable? Eventually, many doctoral dissertations will be written to study the subtle aspects of our societal response to COVID-19. In the meantime, maybe a prize should be awarded for the goofiest conspiracy theory!

Whenever the government takes away an individual liberty such as the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble,” a compelling public interest must be served by doing so. In the case of COVID-19, the early shut-downs were credible to “flatten the curve” so that capacity of hospital beds, the supply of ventilators, and the physical and emotional capacity of medical responders would not be overwhelmed by a surge of contaminated patients.

Now that medical supplies and equipment have been stocked, and medical professionals are experienced with COVID-19 response, does the threat to the medical system’s capacity require that so many legal restrictions remain in place? Were the “upticks” or relapses of many states the result of people assembling, or not following best practices such as wearing facemasks?

Why haven’t the hospitals that serve Seattle, Portland and other cities where “peaceful assemblies” have been occurring for two months been over-run with COVID-19? Has the spread of COVID-19 been deterred by the participants’ wearing of facemasks to avoid tear gas, smoke, and perhaps to conceal their identity?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 80% of people who have died from COVID-19 are 65 and older. A United Nations policy brief said that the “fatality rate for those over 80 years of age is five times the global average.” Of a total of nearly 110,000 reported cases statewide, nearly 20,000 occurred in a nursing home. Data indicates that nearly 68% of Pennsylvania’s 7,200 deaths caused by COVID-19 occurred in a nursing facility.

Some older persons have been isolated in nursing facilities for months, unable to visit with their families, except by a Zoom contact that is made possible by a facility employee. Is a period of indefinitely long isolation a fate that is nearly worse than death from COVID-19?

Recently, the Department of Health announced a plan that could enable COVID-free nursing homes to permit visitation after completing required testing by July 24, and personal care homes by Aug. 31. However, after each reported case of COVID-19, restrictions will resume. Circumstances of visitation privileges are somewhat confusing and not yet well known, but after each new case of COVID-19, the restrictions will resume for a period of 14 to 28 days.

Forbes magazine recently published an article that explored the “decline of aging,” and whether COVID-19 has complicated a potential economic and political rift between those who have reached retirement age, and those who have not. “You can call me a Grandma killer,” conservative opinion-writer Bethany Mandel said, “(but) I’m not sacrificing my home, food on the table, all of our docs and dentists, every form of pleasure (museums, zoos, restaurants), all my kids’ teachers in order to make other people comfortable. If you want to stay locked down, do. I’m not.”

Have too many restrictions been imposed on the nation’s youths, who in some circles reportedly use the term “boomer-remover” as a synonym for COVID-19? We have deprived them of a chance to experience a normal school life including classroom education with peers, participating in sports and other extra-curricular activities. Teenage experiences cannot be postponed until next year.

At what point should we, who are presumably older and wiser, combine our red and blue inclinations to form a purple message to be more vocal as advocates for our youth? Is it a retired person’s business to challenge public officials who can’t seem to articulate a consensus policy about whether to open schools or to “stay safe” with on-line learning?

Our favorite summer events have been postponed indefinitely. So have large backyard picnics with friends. Who wants to eat barbecue and drink a beer while wearing a face mask?

If my mother were here, I’d complain that there is nothing to do. That would be my excuse for calling out the transparently gutless and well-paid state and federal officials, who have offered little in the way of useful guidance to the volunteers who serve on local school boards. It’s too easy to delegate the impossible assignment of balancing the competing agendas of teachers unions and working parents.

Maybe I should just go for a walk.

Learn more about the article’s author, and other community education opportunities, at www.keystoneelderlaw.com. Check out the book, “Long Term Care Guide: Essential Tools for Solving the Elder Care Puzzle,” at the Whistlestop Bookshop or Amazon, and see Keystone’s free directory of services for older adults at www.mypeaceguide.com. Keystone Elder Law has offices in Mechanicsburg and Carlisle. Call 717-697-3223 for a free telephone consultation.

Learn more about the article’s author, and other community education opportunities, at www.keystoneelderlaw.com. Check out the book, “Long Term Care Guide: Essential Tools for Solving the Elder Care Puzzle,” at the Whistlestop Bookshop or Amazon, and see Keystone’s free directory of services for older adults at www.mypeaceguide.com. Keystone Elder Law has offices in Mechanicsburg and Carlisle. Call 717-697-3223 for a free telephone consultation.

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