For Regina Harris, social isolation has meant missing the daily yoga class she used to shoot out the door for at 7:00am.

Harris is one of the 1.73 million residents in New York age 60 and over, with the majority living in Brooklyn, facing the challenges of self-isolation in the age of Coronavirus.

“I miss the roller skating and things like that that I used to do,” she said. “I feel secluded, and mentally it’s exhaustive – it just brought me back to 9/11.”

Regina Harris. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader

Harris, 64, who lives at the Quincy Senior Residences in Bed-Stuy, contracted a lung disease during 9/11 and said when COVID-19 began spreading, she felt helpless. She has been confined to her apartment for the last month, aside from when she put her “Darth Vader outfit on” to check the mail.

“It’s not just about me; it’s about those around you. And I went to the mailbox because some things still go on – it’s time to renew my lease and you can’t just sit there and say they’re not going to worry about it.”

She said she worried about the people she saw outside with no protective gear on: “They don’t take it serious and those are the dangerous ones.”

“When I used to do social services I’d tell people it’s not about you it’s those that come behind you,” she said.

Harris, who is with the local community board, said she would love to be out supporting the community, especially those working on the frontlines, but said that is just not an option.

“I miss the roller skating and things like that that I used to do,” she said. “I feel secluded, and mentally it’s exhaustive – it just brought me back to 9/11.”

“I can only imagine the people on the frontlines that have families to go back to, my heart, my support goes out to them because it’s got to be frightening.”

With shortages in grocery stores, closures of public facilities and the moving online of most services, on top of the added risk factors with age and pre-existing conditions, elders are thought to be one of the most affected groups in our community. Local leaders have urged families to stay connected to older members, and teach them how to get online.

Staying connected

Lanie Haynes, 84, who has lived in Brooklyn for the past 61 years, has been joining a conference call with family and friends every Sunday night to talk and pray together.

Lanie Haynes. Photo: Lanie Haynes.

“I have a nephew in the service, and we have to constantly keep our service men in prayer, he comes on the call and this gives us a chance to communicate and pray together,” she said.

Haynes has also been doing spiritual services with her church via conference calls. She said the pandemic had meant she had not walked out of her front door for four weeks.

“I’ve been from the bedroom to the kitchen and back to the bedroom, that’s basically it,” she laughed. “There’s a lot of things you’d love to do, or things that you do daily, and it seems like none of those things matter now.”

She said she was staying up-to-date with the news each day, and when it got too much, she listened to music on the radio.

So far, Haynes said she had been able to access everything she needed with help from a home attendant, and her local Foodtown had delivered a $50 food package to everyone in her community.

She said the situation was like nothing she had ever seen, and all she could do was wait it out, hope and pray for the best.

Full-time sanitizing

Johnnie Fair didn’t used to leave her home at the Quincy Senior Residences too often, but said at least she knew when she wanted to, she could just up and go.

Johnnie Fair. Photo: Facebook.

“Now I have to think first Do I really need this item?” she said. “Even when I go across the street to the corner store to get a few items, you don’t know who has touched it before you, so you have to wipe it down, sanitize everything that comes into your house and clean it before you put it away. That’s a job, it’s a lot of work.”

Fair said she was just thankful and fortunate she was able to do that, given others couldn’t because of age or medical conditions.

Fair, who moved to Brooklyn in 1962, said she had chosen not to go to her own medical appointments, which included the eye doctor and cardiologist, given the potential risks of exposure.

“If I don’t have to be out there, I’m not going to go unless it’s something that’s really pushing,” she said. “I have a lot of things I need to go for testing on but they’re not an emergency so I’m going to be backed a bit with my medical situations at the end of this.”

“It’s going to be a major change in this country, I don’t know how bad or how good, but I don’t think it will be the way it was before.”

Supporting our seniors

Last week, Bed-Stuy restaurant SKÅL Bklyn, along with Bridge Street Development Corporation, donated more than 100 orders of hot soup to the Quincy Senior Residences, and Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright was there to hand them out.

She said it was important to maintain our social connections while maintaining our distance, and that was particularly true for our senior community.

Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright hands out soup at Quincy Senior Residences. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith.

“Our seniors are prone to isolation; we’re asking them to stay home, we’re asking them to sit by themselves,” she said. “So this is a touch so people still know they’re cared about and there’s people out here caring about them.”

Verna DuBerry Ademu-John, the assistant director of Quincy Senior Services, said on top of awareness campaigns, and wellness checks, a lot of effort was going into coaxing residents into understanding their mobile phones and devices, and staff were doing small tutorials to figure out where residents were at.

“These little things take time, we don’t know how long this pandemic will last but we’re working with them the best way we can.”

The seniors had been living their single lives for a while and it was something they were accustomed to, so although there were many who were sad to miss their usual volunteer jobs, they understood the crisis and their responsibility around not putting themselves at risk and others at risk, said Ademu-John.

There is a hotline for those 60 and older to help stay connected, which is available 24/7, and can be reached at 1-800-971-0016.

For those ready and willing to use their devices, there are also senior focused online workouts, for more information click here.


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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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