Living in Senior Cohousing in the age of Covid-19
May thanks to PDX Commons and member Gretchen Brauer-Rieke for the article below and linked slide presentations. Please note that this information may now be out of date in some ways, and should not be considered medical advice. Cohousing has such rich resources. This well organized and clear information is definitely part of it. Thanks Gretchen!
Living in Senior Cohousing in the age of COVID-19 Threat
From the inception of our life together at PDX Commons, we have been blessed by the presence of an active Health Team, consisting of 7 retired healthcare professionals (2 nurses, 4 nurse-practitioners, and a physician). This team has always been active, prodding the community into paying attention to hand hygiene and food safety and offering regular educational presentations from local experts on various issues related to aging healthfully…but we never expected to find ourselves suddenly trying to protect the lives of the community when COVID-19 came to Oregon.
The Health Team knew early on that we would need to take precautions in order to protect ourselves as much as possible. While almost everyone in the community is considered “vulnerable” to serious COVID-19 illness just because of age, some of us also have pre-existing health conditions that put us at even greater risk, and it became clear that the entire community would need to adhere to precautions to protect the most vulnerable.
We developed a goal: to protect our home and all of our PDXC residents from becoming exposed to COVID-19 by cooperatively maintaining a level of precaution appropriate to current risk and consistent with recommendations of public health experts and/or orders of governmental leaders. A basic assumption also became clear: Anyone of us could be COVID-19 positive and NOT HAVE ANY SYMPTOMS – we will always need to be aware of the potential to breathe droplets that another could inhale because we’re too close or onto surfaces that another could touch and spread.
The Health Team then set out to develop a series of escalating levels of precaution that we recommended to the community in a step-wise fashion as the risk in our geographic area increased. We learned, though, that taking measures to separate ourselves from each other -not being in groups together, shutting down parts of our common spaces – all seemed clearly antithetical to cohousing…it is a struggle for us. The ability of the Health Team to make emergency recommendations (such as when our Governor enacted the state-wide Stay Home, Save Lives order) was met with some resistance by those who (for obvious reasons) became concerned about a loss of both personal autonomy and the ability of the community to meet together to discuss and arrive at consensus on adopting the recommendations. Nevertheless, the community as a whole has managed to pull together in extraordinarily stressful conditions to row our boat in the same direction: do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable.
As of this week, PDX Commons is essentially on lock-down. Our general definition of “home” is our entire building and grounds, though we encourage individual decision to restrict their definition as far as they wish to feel comfortable. We don’t allow non-residents into our building, and discourage our residents from moving into public spaces outside of our building unless essential. We’re disinfecting frequently-touched common-space surfaces, and try to maintain our 6’ of physical separation from each other. We have had crash-courses in how to Zoom, and are learning other ways to find joy in community without needing to be physically proximate. We still serve occasional take-out community dinners and, if the weather is nice, sit in the courtyard to enjoy eating together. We’ve had our first walkway dance party (and are learning the advantage of our building’s exterior walkways that overlook our courtyard!). We’re learning to take turns in the laundry room, elevator, and exercise room. We’re trying hard to give each other a pass for irritability and anxiety, knowing that we’re all just doing the best we can in trying times.
Living with and trying to protect 38 vulnerable people from a serious epidemic is certainly a challenge for our community, but we’re finding that the strength and support we find together in community is our biggest asset right now, and we remain grateful.
For the slideshows below, please open them in Google Slides where you will be able to see the speaker notes in addition to the slides themselves.
Slideshow: What we need to know
Slideshow: How we’re working to protect each other