Protecting senior living communities a key concern for health officials

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont health officials are keeping a close eye on senior living communities as they try to stem the spread of coronavirus to the most vulnerable population of residents in the state.

The CDC says the elderly and people living with underlying conditions are the most vulnerable to die from the virus. After a senior facility in Washington state was identified as a hotbed for coronavirus, similar facilities across the country are taking steps to prepare.

At Westview Meadows in Montpelier, hand sanitizer stations and caution signs line the entrance.

"We're balancing that fine line between being overly cautious and having the right amount of precautions," said the facility's Dawn Stevens. She says they are working to keep residents safe and calm, but they're also turning away family members who come from the Brattleboro or Upper Valley area, where three of the confirmed New Hampshire cases originated. They're also screening those visitors who have traveled by plane.

For many seniors, shared meals and activities are one of their main ways of socializing. "Their emotional well-being is just as important as their physical well-being. Asking them to stay in their apartments for an extended period of time can have adverse effects as well," Stevens said.

Some older community members say they aren't too concerned with coronavirus. "It's being, I think, over played. If people were just cautious it would be better off. Just take it normal. If you have a cold, just go see a doctor," said Guy Boucher, a resident from Barre.

Rick Condee was visiting Westview Wednesday for the birth of his grandchild, The Massachusetts resident says he's washing his hands more, but is still waiting to learn more about the disease. "Probably not shaking hands as much, although I haven't had call to in the last several days. The people I interacted with I gave hugs to," he said.

Vt. Emergency Management Director Erica Bornemann says she has one piece of advice for people looking to visit their loved ones in senior facilities. "Don't go if you're sick. It doesn't matter what sickness you have, don't go if you're sick. That's the number one piece of advice. Don't go to work if you're sick, don't visit vulnerable adults if you're sick," she said.

Though Westview Meadows is still allowing some visitors, other facilities in our area are taking it a step further. Meadowbrook Healthcare in Plattsburgh isn't allowing any visitors at all.