Those who had to visit the Auburn Senior Activity Center every day or go without friends and their only hot meal of the day were still coming.
Other clients, however, those who had the resources and whose well being wasn’t hanging on that meal, had decided days earlier to “self-isolate” and wait out the coronavirus at home, said Director Radine Lozier.
So it was a sad moment on March 5 that, when the city of Auburn announced it would close the enter that day and keep it closed indefinitely, most of the clients there to hear the news were of that first group.
“They were concerned about not seeing their friends, they were concerned because this is their community and their family. But for the most part, everyone understood,” Lozier said.
Understood that by closing the center, the city of Auburn was following a recommendation Public Health – Seattle & King County had put out the day before about the COVID-19: that people 60 and older should stay home, and so should pregnant women, and people suffering from underlying health conditions like weakened immune systems, heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
“A person has only to meet one of those criterion to be considered high risk, and it says ‘people who are 60 and older,’ which is who’s here,” Lozier said. “If we as a city say that we are following the recommendations from the health department, then that means we will close.”
At this time, Lozier continued, she can’t say when the senior center will reopen, so the city has cancelled all of its trips, tours and classes through the end of the month, and will refund money.
On Monday, AARP cancelled its yearly tax prep assistance to the center, and United Way has also cancelled that same service to the broader community.
Staff and volunteers have made it a point to chat with its seniors on the phone several times a week, and seniors 60 and older can pick up take-out meals at the center between 12 and 1 p.m., Monday to Friday. If they are younger than 60, the cost per meal is $6.50.
Catholic Community Services in Kent has agreed to send a cook and food to the center, and Hyde Shuttle has agreed to bring meals to its cloistered clients who regularly get to the center on its vans, Lozier said.
The hardest part of the closure, one woman said as she dropped by the center for her lunch on March 10, is that she misses her friends.
“It’s more about isolating in place, I hate to do it, I love people,” the woman said. “At church they say, ‘You can hug if you want, but we really prefer you just kind of do the elbow-thing.’ My thing is, if we do it for 26 days, the virus will pretty much pass. That’s the hope.”
“For several people who come, they live alone and this is their lifeline,” Lozier added. “One of our participants said to us one day that she comes ‘because I know if I fall, you’ll help me,’ because she can’t help herself. I think she’s very worried that she’ll fall at home, and there won’t be anybody to help.”
The center has continued to deliver Meals on Wheels, but instead of going into a home with meals as usual, personnel will call the senior or seniors when they reach the home to let them know the food is on the doorstep before getting back into the car and watching them take the food inside.
“I always say the essential things are food, shelter and safety. That’s kind of my thing when I have to prioritize stuff, so that’s what we are looking at,” Lozier said. “We are letting the Auburn Food Bank know, we’ve let Ray of Hope know, so if they do have anybody 60 and over they are concerned about, then they could take advantage of the take-out meal.”
Challenges at the food bank
Across town at the Auburn Food Bank, which is not a city operation, clients are calling first to find out if the doors are open – and they are – before they come in, said Director Debbie Christian.
“We have hand sanitizer out on the counter and when clients come in, the first thing they’re doing is reaching for hand sanitizer,” Christian said, adding that staff and volunteers have been scrupulously cleaning counter tops and surfaces and everything else.
So far, Christian said, she hasn’t seen a dropoff in client numbers to date, “but I am worried about it coming up because some of our suppliers are talking about ‘what if we don’t have enough workers to keep us open?’ And they can’t give food,” Christian said.
“… Our days are always different,” Christian added, “and Thursday is always our biggest day, and you’ll see a line outside waiting to get in, and that goes for two or three hours. Today (March 5) they were real early coming in, and by 10:30 a.m., the line was down to we were down to two or three people at a time picking up. For reference, we can go usually go almost 2½ to four hours.”
One of the food bank’s biggest issues at the moment, Christian said, is that, given the virus scare, it doesn’t have enough volunteers at the moment to do all the work that has to be done.
Catholic Community Services of King County has been in contact with cities and with King County to identify people who use its services, and who are medically frail and potentially more at risk based on their age and pre-existing medical conditions
“We are talking abut providing extra services to those clients, particularly those who use one of its shelters or day centers,” said Danielle “Dan” Wise, director of homeless services for CCS of King County.
Right now in South King County, CCS is particularly worried about the complete lack of a 24-hour location that would allow people who have been told they are potentially contagious and should stay home and away from others to quarantine in their own communities.
“A lot of homeless access resources, hygiene, meal support or medical support, and when they go to access those services, even if they have been sheltering on the streets, they have to seek those services in places that are crowded with a lot of folks who are medically compromised,” Wise said. “So, let’s say they go to a meal program or to a hygiene center for services, and then they come back to their tent alone, and they don’t have any follow-up care.
“That means, if they are becoming ill,” Wise said, “they don’t have anybody checking in on them, making sure that they are hydrated and well cared for. And they probably started out already medically fragile from being in the elements and outside. So we are definitely seeing folks who started out vulnerable as being more at risk. And if they have decided to stay away from other people more, they may be compromising their condition, their medical care, and if they need medication, they may not be accessing that.”