Coronavirus

Image Courtesy: Covaicare

This week, a study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), which examined 72,314 patient records (including 44,672 confirmed cases of COVID-19), showed that the above 80 age group had a fatality rate of 14.8%.

While social distancing and increased hygiene is being practised by some and others are self-quarantined, what’s the scene like in the retirement communities in south India? Especially, in the retirement community haven of Coimbatore, followed closely by Bengaluru? Between the two cities, nearly 10,000 people reside in these communities.

Ever since COVID-19 started spreading across the world, retirement communities, where the age of the residents ranges from 60-95, have been on high alert, because each community is home to hundreds of senior citizens living closely within a gated community.

Wash basins and sanitisers have been placed right at the entrance, near the security booth, and anyone coming inside is screened for fever. Visitors and vendors are not allowed inside and have been asked to drop off packages at the security. Besides this, staff have been speaking to the residents about the need to wash their hands with soap and water after touching anything.

The Association of Senior Living India (ASLI) has put in place a set of rules that has been shared with members, to be followed in their communities. Among them are:

  • Visitors allowed in case of emergency, only after the doctor’s approval. They must stick to their living unit and not use common areas.
  • Anyone with symptoms of fever, sore throat, cough or breathlessness will be cared for at home and food will be home-delivered.
  • Residents must maintain a six feet distance while conversing with anyone.
  • Employees will enter premises only after being checked by the medical team, and their daily temperatures will be recorded.

Col A Sridharan (Retd), founder of CovaiCare, Coimbatore, which manages five retirement communities in Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Mysuru and Puducherry (with about 850 residents), is a senior citizen himself. He says that within days of COVID-19 making an appearance in India, he wrote to ASLI to put in place a system so that residents can be protected.

“I am 71 myself, and the residents in my care range from 60-94 years. We now have a beautiful model on precautions to be taken against COVID-19. These have a lot to do with hygiene, from the minute someone wants to enter any of our facilities. All of our residents have been checked for any fever, and our job is to protect them from outside contact. If anyone experiences any COVID-19-like symptoms, they have to report it and our health staff will take over and do the needful as per protocol,” he says.

Sanisation measures at CovaiCare
Visitors to the retirement communities have also been restricted, Col A Sridharan says.

“Many whose children live abroad and were scheduled to visit have cancelled their trips, and we have told our residents to avoid going out. However, while promoting social distancing, we are particular that our residents don’t end up facing social isolation,” he adds.

Preetham, a retirement complex in Pollachi with 120 residents aged between 55 and 95, is run by Vanitha Rengaraj, who returned home safely after a close brush with coronavirus on board the MS Asara, an Egyptian luxury cruise liner on the Nile. She tested negative but has quarantined herself for 14 days, and has issued instructions that no one should go out of the complex unless urgent. And if they have to, they’ve been asked to avoid taking a cab from outside.

“Our in-house doctors check their temperature every day, and we have placed sanitisers across our complex,” Vanitha adds.

Adarsh Narahari, managing director of Primus Senior Care in Bengaluru and a member of the ASLI board, says that the protocols have been put in place in member-run institutions.

“Most of the larger players have implemented them already. We came up with these rules in consultation with a geriatrician. Other than this, at Primus we have given our staff who travel from the city paid leave. We are making do with staff who are drawn from nearby villages and who can be picked up by our private shuttle. We don’t want anyone taking public transport now,” he says.

While WhatsApp groups have been abuzz with more disinformation than information, Adarsh says that what the messages have done is bring home the seriousness of the situation. “Therefore, everyone is willing to follow instructions. What we also did at Primus (which has 250 residents) was have doctors speak to the committee members, who then passed it on to the residents. So, the response has been very good. They know why we are being so careful,” he says.

Meanwhile, today the Ernakulam District Collector issued an advisory for old age homes, orphanages and special homes to protect residents and inmates. These are mostly like the instructions mentioned above, but one requires institutions to maintain a log book of visitors with name, address, phone number, date and time of visit.

What happens after the COVID-19 threat passes over? Will such communities with a vulnerable population stick to the new, strict protocols or go back to the basic health guidelines they were following earlier?

“Residents might protest after a point, but I think the sanitisation and hygiene protocol is now an integral part of our staff’s routine now. And that will ultimately ensure everyone is taken care of well,” says the manager of a retirement home, who did not want to be named.

Subha J Rao is an independent journalist based in Mangaluru.

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