The Impact of COVID

There’s no question that the COVID pandemic has impacted our personal lives. Things that we used to be able to take for granted have become problematic. Seeing family and friends now involves elaborate preparations and plans involving masks and social distancing. Going out to eat or to a theatre can be seen as dangerous or even life-threatening. And travel plans, especially those involving cruises or plane trips, have had to be postponed or canceled altogether.

We can’t separate life at Sunnyside from the COVID response in the world at large, for we are of course a part of this world. It’s now difficult for us to remember when we didn’t have to check in at the gate, when we could freely use the Wellness Center, or when we could visit friends in Assisted Living.

I recently checked in with several Sunnyside residents and staff to see how the pandemic has affected their lives here on campus. The Activities staff keeps our minds active and our spirits buoyed up by gently guiding us toward the “Sunny Side” of life. Some activities have had to move outdoors and are now taught in the Pavilion, and other classes and activities are now available on Channel 971, our in-house channel.

Staff at the Wellness Center has delivered meals to residents in Assisted Living and Health Care, screened employees, and in many ways expanded what they do. The Pavilion, for example, has seen its use soar because the Wellness staff has set up a satellite fitness center with fitness circuit, cardio exercise machines, and hand weights. In addition, the Pavilion has been used for outdoor lectures, workshops, fitness classes, and fitness testing there. Because residents have enjoyed participating in fitness classes broadcast on Channel 971, those classes might continue to be broadcast post-COVID.

Another change in the intellectual life of Sunnyside has been the difficulty in locating guest speakers and professors to address residents. Professors are declining invitations to present because of understandable concerns about the risk of exposure to COVID. Another reason they’re finding it difficult to visit Sunnyside is that their own jobs have become increasingly stressful and challenging, and hence demand even more of their time.

Kay Stilwell, one of the directors of Sunny Treasures, reports that in addition to the usual job of sorting and pricing items, they must now find storage space for many of them as well. Donations are still coming in, but Sunnyside Treasures hasn’t been able to sell as much because outside shoppers are as of now not allowed on campus. Kay reports that they are “still selling, however, and furniture is doing pretty well. The Bistro basement is open to staff and residents. We still have lots of good stuff, so people are encouraged to stop by and look.”

In April Dining Services had to pivot and moved the Highlands Dining program to a 100% meal delivery service. For the past 27 weeks Highlands residents have received menu selection sheets twice a week, while Village and Glen residents were invited to call the restaurant for delivered meals. On July 13th the restaurant opened for breakfast and lunch for Highlands residents, but with the seating of one guest per table and the need to maintain physical distance, this has not been very active. As the restaurant opened, service to Village and Glen moved from delivery to pickup, so the staff could focus on seated guests. By mid-October Dining Services will be adopting guidelines similar to those other restaurants have moved toward, using 50% capacity and six feet of distance between parties.

The entire marketing team is preoccupied with one thing: to do what needs to be done in the safest possible way. And “what needs to be done” has turned out to be an enormous task. For example, the marketing team has been involved in meal, grocery, and medication delivery to campus residents and has had to be equipped with masks and gloves to wipe down doorbells, door handles, and elevator buttons along the way. The team has in addition helped to cover the front gate, has assisted at employee screening stations, and has delivered meals in AL and HC. Along with many other departments, including Administration, Chaplain Services, and Wellness, members of the marketing team have used Mail Chimp to provide weekly updates, virtual tours, fun videos, stress relievers, and general encouragement, and they have also provided technical support for Zoom, FaceTime, and other modes of communication.

Clearly, life has changed at Sunnyside both for staff and for residents. It still remains to be seen how traditions like the Thanksgiving buffet and the Christmas Gala will be impacted, but life will probably never ret