Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Organizations for seniors increase health precautions


March 19, 2020 | View PDF

In response to the threat of COVID-19 spread, organizations serving senior citizens in Haines are taking extra steps to protect their clients.

Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk of experiencing serious illness from contracting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Haines has the highest concentration of seniors in Southeast Alaska,” Haines Senior Center site manager Caroline Hankins said. This distinction means the Haines community is, on average, at higher risk than many other communities in the state. Hankins said it’s a particularly high risk time since many are returning home from travel.

On Monday, the Haines Senior Center closed its doors to the public. Four staff members--Hankins, a driver and two cooks--are still showing up for work in order to provide home-delivered meals and rides for those over the age of 60, she said.

“Every Southeast senior center is doing the same thing,” Hankins said.

The senior center delivered 14 meals to seniors at home on Monday and 17 on Tuesday. Hankins said she anticipates the number increasing to 30 meals a day, comparable to the number they usually serve meals to at the center. She said the population of seniors who usually come to the center for lunch may not overlap much with those requesting meal delivery. Those who come in tend to be more independent and mobile while those requesting meal delivery are likely doing so because they cannot leave the house.

Hankins said the center is working to expand meal delivery service to upper valley residents.

The main limiting factor for meal deliveries right now is the number of to-go containers available, Hankins said. “We have about 100, but at the rate we’re going through them, we will need 100 to 150 a week. We’re reaching out to restaurants in town that are closing to see if they’re willing to donate.”

Hankins said her supervisor is going to double check Costco in Juneau. She said they had heard Costco had run out of to-go containers. This week, Governor Dunleavy announced a statewide ban on dining-in at restaurants as part of social distancing efforts. This measure went into effect Wednesday at 5 p.m., making take-out containers a hot commodity.

Hankins said the center will continue providing meals until they run out of to-go containers. The other limiting factor in their ability to provide services is the health of their staff, especially the driver, she said. The organization has a second driver who is coming back from Hawaii. “They will need to quarantine for 14 days before they can drive the bus,” she said.

If their sole driver gets sick during that time period, Hankins said she is the only other person qualified to drive. “We are working on getting new drivers,” she said. But the training and background check takes roughly two weeks, she said.

“We screen everybody before they get on the bus,” Hankins said. She said they ask questions similar to screening questions at the clinic about travel history. “We won’t be giving rides to people for 14 days after they travel unless they really need a ride, and if we do, we’ll make them wear a mask,” she said. Senior center staff have been disinfecting the van after every ride as another health precaution, she said. Hankins said she could see a point at which the center is told to stop giving rides as an added social distancing measure.

On March 13, the state issued an order directing nursing homes to implement a screening process for visitors and limit resident.

Haines Assisted Living is “taking a pretty aggressive policy as far as protecting the residents, especially with our employees and anyone that’s entering the building,” general manager Jim Studley said. “We have cut off all social functions,” he said, including weekly musical performances and ice cream socials. The building is closed to individuals who liked to come and walk through the facility.

“No one can come in without ringing the doorbell,” Studley said. “(Visitors) have to say why they’re there. We take their temperature outside the building before they can enter.” Family and staff are still allowed in the building, but they must consent to the required screening.

“It’s probably the most aggressive protection that we’ve ever taken that I’m aware of in Haines,” Studley said. “We’re being very aggressive about it because we care about the people there. Until the pandemic is lifted, we’re not going to take any chances.”

Studley said his message for those in the community is: “If you’re sick, stay away.”

It’s important for younger people to self-isolate as well as older members of the population, Hankins said. “They’re saying the young people are carrying (COVID-19) around without knowing it and passing it around. Even if you don’t show symptoms, you could still be spreading it.”


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