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Jones-Harrison infection preventionist: ‘[The residents] are now doing bingo’

March 11, 2021

This community reporting project documents the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Barb Joyce, infection preventionist, Jones-Harrison senior living

Since getting the second dose of the vaccine, we have had no new cases of COVID in our resident population, and it’s been a month since a staff member has contracted it. Ninety-six out of the 100 patients in our skilled nursing facility have been vaccinated. Our assisted living is at 98%. And our staff have stepped up to the plate, and we’re now at an 80% rate among employees. We offered it to them once, twice, three times, and we kept telling them, “It’s a huge opportunity for you.” It makes us feel safe in the lunchroom to know our coworkers have been vaccinated.

Starting this month, our activities department created a full activities calendar for the first time in a year. They are now doing bingo. It used to be every other week but now we’re doing it twice a week because it’s a fan favorite. Ceramics is also a fan favorite. Our volunteers, who we vaccinated, are back in the facility.

There are a lot more smiles among the residents. The energy is really good. And I think they will really love not having to wear masks — that will be a major celebration. My staff don’t mind the masks as much as the shields and the eye protection, which is really hot and sweaty and annoying. When we take those away, it will be a big milestone for them.

We had a meeting today about post-vaccination visitation inside our facility. We are planning to expand our visitation program to let families spend an hour to an hour and a half in the room of their loved one. We won’t require either the visitor or resident to be vaccinated, because everything has to be nondiscriminatory. Masking, social distancing and hand hygiene will still be required.

We’ll allow two visitors per patient per time slot, controlling how many can be in each unit at a given time. If people sign up in advance, they’ll be able to see mom or dad or grandma or grandpa twice per week. Visitors will be able to come inside their loved one’s room, sit at our bistro or go outdoors if the weather is nice. We’re hoping to roll this out by next week.

I feel a cautious excitement. What will make me drop the “cautious” part will be if we roll it out and it’s a success and we don’t see any transmission occur. If the variant strain arrives that’s been identified in Carver County — and is more deadly and more contagious — we may need to make changes. But we are hopeful. The variants’ severity seems, so far, to be lessened by the vaccine, though there could be mutations. It’s a lot easier to make a decision about opening up when the consequence of that decision is mild-to-moderate illness versus severe illness or death. We’re hoping that even if we see COVID in the future, it won’t be the old COVID of intensive care, ventilation and death.

We hope COVID going forward will be more like influenza — which, by the way, was totally stopped in its tracks this year. We have to pocket for the future approaches like social distancing and masks that we know work. I bet you that the masking we’re doing in this nation will never go away again. People will mask next flu season to prevent themselves from getting the flu, and it won’t look so awkward anymore because we’re all so used to it. Our dentist was saying they’ve been so successful at preventing transmission with the anti-aerosolization procedure they’ve implemented that they don’t know why they didn’t do it years ago. Ingenuity has really taken off with this novel virus.

After a year of the pandemic, I’ve been thinking about how we always had an emergency evacuation plan for events like tornadoes or straight-line winds or fires. They’d always been hypotheticals for us. We’d always practiced for these events but kind of found them silly. But the pandemic has taught me to stay prepared for these hypotheticals because you never know when they’ll hit.

When Joe Biden was inaugurated he had those flags on the National Mall marking all of the people who had succumbed to the pandemic. The one-year anniversary is a reminder of the history we’re living through. We’ll be reading about this for years and years to come, and it is a time to think about this virus’ human costs.

My family has all been vaccinated. The CDC now says it’s safe to be maskless in your isolation bubble if you’re all vaccinated. We’re looking forward to expanding our social calendar with reduced risk. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law have come to our home, and we’ve gone to theirs. My daughter and her significant other are now coming around again. And we’re planning a trip for the end of June to see my dad, who is 95. Things are loosening up, and people are feeling a little more confident that they won’t be a statistic.

We’re lowering our expectations with the Derek Chauvin trial, because we don’t want to be devastated. We think he’ll face some kind of consequence. And we’re hopeful that changes keep being made to the police department. There are people who are relentless when it comes to pressuring the policymakers, and we’re grateful for them because it can’t stop now.

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