By Harvey I. Barkin

The California Department of Aging and Ethnic Media Services hosted an on-site and virtual press brief on April 12 about the consequences of isolation during the Covid lockdown and the re-opening of adult day health care centers at the Pleasant Hill Choice in Aging Center.

According to the California Department of Aging’s data, 70.8 percent of confirmed deaths from Covid are people 65 years old and above.

But after almost two years of Covid, it was found that the virus is not the only vulnerability among older adults.

The shutdown and the quarantine forced senior citizens to be on their own without human contact, access to medical and vital resources for a long while, and this often affected their mental health.

Now that the vaccine is readily available and adult day health centers are re-opening, these senior citizens can safely reconnect with their families and resume social lives. The first step to connecting is getting the vaccine and booster shots.

California Department of Aging Director Susan DeMarois, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center internist Dr. Sara Levin and Choice in Aging President and CEO Debbie Toth were the panel speakers. Ethnic Media Services Director Sandy Close moderated.

Close revealed “a worrisome trend” is the slowing down of getting vaccination and booster shots among this age group. One third of people aged over 60 or about 15 million older adults are not fully vaccinated or have not taken booster shots.

What former CDC director Tom Freidan called “an issue of life and death” especially with the resurgence of the new BA.2 Covid variant.

DeMarois said services and support for anyone at any age in all 58 counties statewide can be accessed through the hub at 1-800-510-2020.

Anyone can be linked to the required information, assistance and referral for insurance counselling, caregiver services, legal services, home modification, nutrition, housing and transportation through this number.

Their network of partners in Aging and Disability will meet any caller wherever they are.
Fully vaccinated seniors eager to resume social activities can be directed to adult day care or senior centers, congregate or shared meals and senior nutrition through here.

DeMarois said they will also work with those not fully vaccinated or those with underlying health concerns. They will provide help and support, virtually if needed.

They can educate them with what’s available in their community. She cited the Friendship Line at 1-800-670-1360 to call someone who will listen 24/7 in any language.

This community service has been running since the pandemic began.

As the emergency is ending, DeMarois urged those eligible for MediCal (California’s Medicaid program) to update their contact information so their services and benefits won’t be disrupted when renewal day comes.

She also revealed that the undocumented, aged 50 and over will be eligible for MediCal and in the coming months.

Dr. Levin talked about partnership with Choice in Aging that resulted in vaccine and booster mobile clinics.

She said it was a realization of the potential of what can be done in an emergency.

She cited data from Contra Costa Health Services that showed the age group disproportionately affected with most illness and death was the age group 50 and over even as graphs show a bottoming out of the Omicron variant.

This was one of the reasons why a second booster shot was approved.

Dr. Levin also said they observed a disproportionate number of cases in congregate facilities where the sickest, those with underlying conditions and the proximity caused an even wider spread of Covid.

Infection was more rampant in multi-generational families where younger people needed to go out and work.

They brought the infection home to parents and grandparents. And a good number of these workers were people of color.

Since they were at work, they couldn’t get to the mobile vaccine clinics. So, those unable to go to the mobile clinics or the homebound can register online for a nurse to come out to them.

Dr. Levin also said, “There are now free treatments available in pharmacies or through your primary care physician.

The sooner you start treatment for Covid, the sooner you will minimize illness. We were in a scarcity (situation) at the beginning of Omicron. We’re not any longer.”

There may still be complications for those with renal failure, kidney disease or those who take a lot of medication. But “there are now pharmacies where you can get anti-gen test and, if you’re positive, get a prescription for the 5-day anti-viral treatment.

If you’re feeling symptoms, get to a place where you can get test-to-treat and not wait 3-4 days into illness and need to go to a hospital. It’s the difference between a mild cold or going to ICU with a ventilator.”

DeMarois chimed in that Contra Costa Health Services is a model and their protocols are the same statewide. She referenced as a resource for anybody needing a vaccine or transportation going to an appointment.

Toth summarized the intent of the press brief.

“We rarely read about older adults in the news.

They have always been invisible.

(When Covid happened) we told them to do what we, at first, told them not to do: isolate themselves.

(We knew that this would affect their mental health.) But now we are trying to do something about that.”

“We need to socialize, share a language, gather as a community. We can lead longer and meaningful lives when we connect with each other. And get the health services we need.”
Toth related the reluctance to get vaccinated by some of the older Russians in the community.

“There was a 100 percent uptake when we told them the only way to get back into the community was to get vaccinated. This is where they meet, eat, exercise and get health intervention from nurses and therapists.”

Senior Advisor on Aging, Disability and Alzheimer’s for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office Kim McCoy Wade congratulated the panelists and partners.

She said, “Isolation matters because of mood, mobility and mental sharpness. We feel sad in isolation then joy when we get together.

The older adults lost mobility and then it all came back when they danced, exercised and exhausted but it was fun. In the Center, the brain kicks in at bingo and puzzles.

There are choices in aging.”

“The take away in all of this is to keep current (with information), keep vaccinated. Call your parents, check on the person next to you and in church.”