I’m sitting here in my living room, sanitizing wipes on the side table, TV set to mute, thinking about my 401(k) as the ticker in the lower corner of the screen shows the stock market, once again, going to hell in a handbasket.

I’m 65, a cancer survivor and, like the rest of my generation, hearing here, there and everywhere that we’re most at risk of contracting COVID-19, what with our aging and/or compromised immune systems and all. Thursday’s news that the first Mainer – a woman in her 50s – has tested presumptively positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus only amplified the warnings.

“Don’t panic,” the experts tell us, even while all over the planet, people appear to be panicking.

“But take precautions,” they also warn, because, as our grandmothers used to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yet there is no cure for this virus – and according to everyone except our stable genius president, there won’t be a lifesaving vaccine for another 12 months or more.

Welcome to the Golden Years?

We baby boomers, spawned between World War II and the early 1960s, are long accustomed to being the center of attention.

We were the all-American kids who cheered astronaut John Glenn, ate Wheaties and memorized the Beatles lyrics the day they came out. We were the hippies, who railed against the Vietnam War and smoked pot and celebrated when Richard Nixon departed the White House. We learned to type on Smith Coronas (no pun intended) and watched slack-jawed as the screens came to life on our first Radio Shack TRS-80 portable computers.

Now, we’re older. While some of us still treasure our freedom, our mobility and our daily engagements with work, friends and society in general, others among us are slowing down, getting out less, growing more isolated with each passing season.

We pretend not to hear when younger generations say “OK, boomer,” dismissing us as out of touch or, worse yet, irrelevant. Like every rising generation, they think they know everything. Like every aging generation, we know they don’t.

And now this.

This is not meant to be a sob story. As we’ve bubbled our way through American society these past 75 years, we boomers arguably have enjoyed more education, more prosperity and more good health than any generation in prior human history.

Rather, this is a plea: As COVID-19 now establishes a foothold in Maine, the oldest state in the nation, it’s time to pay close attention to the older folks among us – particularly those we know are there but rarely if ever see.

Normally, as a matter of social policy, we encourage people as they age to stay engaged, find new connection points to replace work or old friends who have passed away, avoid isolation.

Now, they’re suddenly being told the opposite: Stay home. It’s risky out there and could soon become more so. You need to protect yourself.

“It’s a very tricky balance because we know how important it is for older adults to have regular interactions with other people,” Megan Walton, CEO of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, told me in a telephone interview. “And yet, we’re seeing from the CDC that they’re recommending older adults stay home and partake in much fewer activities than normal.”

Thus, attendance at SMAA’s Samuel L. Cohen Adult Day Center in Biddeford has been down slightly this week – even before Thursday’s announcement of the presumed COVID-19 case in Androscoggin County.

At the same time, Walton said, plans are in the works to provide sustenance days in advance to clients of the agency’s Meals on Wheels food delivery program. The concern is that the volunteers who are the backbone of the program, many of them older themselves, may need to stay home for their own well being.

Similar worries can be heard at AARP Maine, where state director Lori Parham worries about getting accurate, timely information to older Mainers who need the unadorned facts about COVID-19 to keep their anxieties in check.

“We’ve got a lot of older frail people in parts of the state that aren’t connected online via high-speed internet,” Parham noted, adding that local daily and weekly newspapers may be their only contact with what’s happening beyond their dooryard.

So, what can you do?

During her press briefing in Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills minced no words about minimizing the COVID-19 risk for people who are over 60 and/or chronically ill.

“Avoid visiting older people, people with chronic health conditions,” she said. “Avoid visiting them in person in order to protect their health and safety.”

But at the same time, Mills continued, “find other ways to show that you love them. Call them on the phone, write them, email, use Skype or Facetime. Social isolation is a concern at times like this, but Maine people are resourceful and we will continue to support each other.”

Appearing on Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” program Thursday afternoon, Dr. Dora Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth and the governor’s sister, said she’s already begun dispatching her kids to fetch groceries for their older neighbors.

“I told (the neighbors), ‘I don’t want you going out to the grocery store,’” she said.

(Good advice. Now if only someone could explain why panic buying has emptied our local supermarkets of any and all toilet paper.)

How long this will go on is anyone’s guess.

How rapidly it spreads, on the other hand, will depend in large part on what each of us does – starting now – to keep ourselves and those around us free of infection: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, use sanitizing wipes to clean off commonly touched surfaces, cough into your sleeve, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer at the ready if you can’t wash. And whatever your thoughts on the boomer generation, understand that being older, while never easy, just got a lot more frightening.

As SMAA’s Walton noted, if anything positive comes out of all this, “it’s awareness of just how many people are aging in our state. And how we may not see them regularly.”

Amen to that.

And so, all you young whippersnappers out there, by all means keep your distance from your older friends and loved ones in the days, weeks and maybe months ahead.

Just don’t let them disappear.


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