CHICAGO (AP) – Wake Sharp got to see his family on Father’s Day – see them, don’t hug them, don’t kiss them, don’t even shake hands.
Because of the terrible toll the coronavirus takes on older people in nursing homes and other settings, the 93-year-old navy veteran and his loved ones had to stay on either side of a plexiglass barrier and talk by phone at the assisted living home outside San Francisco, where he is a resident.
“It is better than nothing!” he said. ‘I really enjoy it.’
Fathers in nursing homes across the country marked Father’s Day at a forced distance from their family’s Sunday. Some families relied on video calls; others used social media to send their wishes.
The virus has made personal visits to elderly and high-risk family members difficult and sometimes impossible in recent months, although parts of the country have started to break free. Maryland and Illinois were among the states that allowed outdoor visits to nursing homes with masks six feet away.
Frank Wolff, his wife and their son visited his 91-year-old father on Father’s Day on a terrace outside his assisted living home in Chicago. Staff took everyone’s temperature and followed all other regulations.
“It was good to see him and get an idea of how he’s really doing,” said Wolff, who hadn’t seen his father Howard Wolff since Illinois retired in mid-March.
Sharp was shown to his family through a plexiglass cabinet built by an employee of Rockville Terrace, the home in Fairfield, California, where Sharp lives.
Four generations of the Sharp family gathered in a courtyard. The oldest among them, who arrived with the help of his walker, sat down in the three-sided box with the phone in hand and spoke to relatives on the outside on one of their phones.
“We hug each other through the glass,” said Sharp, who hasn’t had a real hug from them in a long time.
This was not the first time they had come that way.
“I don’t know who else enjoys it. My family and I – or Daddy,” said son Dan Sharp, who lives in Novato, California. He paused, adding, “Probably Daddy.”
Rockville Terrace also had a family car parade with Father’s Day plates and a barbeque for the dads to get steaks and burgers.
The coronavirus has killed an estimated 120,000 people across the country. By mid-June, more than 45,500 residents and staff had died from outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to an ongoing count by The Associated Press. That was about 40% of total deaths from the plague at the time.
Nursing homes were one of the last places to ease restrictions. Families and nursing home staff are concerned about the effects of the isolation on residents’ mental health.
While video calling has helped, Rockville Terrace’s plexiglass cabinet – which creator Jason Reyes jokingly calls the ‘Sneezeguard 3000’ – is another possible solution. It was introduced in April.
“It’s not going back to normal … but it is helping,” said Reyes, a managing partner of Carlson Management, a company with seven locations in California. He said he was driven to build the 128-square-foot enclosures after so many residents and family members were distraught because they couldn’t see each other.
“The whole situation just struck hearts,” Reyes said, noting that the demand for loft visits – each resident’s family session that lasts an hour on weekdays and half an hour on weekends – was strong in the three facilities where they have them.
During Father’s Day on social media, children posted pictures and messages about the fathers they couldn’t see.
“Happy Father’s Day Dad! I hate that I can’t be here today,” said Kelly Cooper, who lives in Bedfordshire, England, on Instagram alongside photos of her and her father, David Cooper, who is 73 and considered high risk is considered He lives alone in London.
Cooper said her own debilitating health problems have also limited her travel.
“Once this virus settles down and it’s safe to visit, I’ll be there. Xxxx I love you to the moon and back Pa xxxx,” she wrote.
Wolff in Chicago said his own father was happy to see him, but he took off his mask and was especially frustrated that he couldn’t hug his grandson. He is also hard of hearing and has therefore become a fan of talking on a large screen that is set up so that residents can make video calls.
“Just do the FaceTime,” Howard Wolff told his son. “It is easier.”
So his son said they will continue to do both types of visits. “Yes, so we can’t cuddle. But he’s safe,” said Frank Wolff. “All in all, this is all that makes sense.”
Martha Irvine, an AP writer and visual journalist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://twitter.com/irvineap.
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