As COVID-19 cases increase across the country, senior living facilities in the Midcoast are taking extra precautions to reduce the likelihood of transmission amongst staff and residents during the holiday season.

Most of these facilities are having low-key Christmas celebrations this year, but the staff at the facilities are trying to bring what cheer they can to by allowing their families to visit them.

The program director at the Sunnybrook Senior Living in Brunswick, Jean Harris, said they are allowing families to visit their loved ones this year, provided they must be fully vaccinated, have their temperature checked at the door, and sanitize. The family visitations were canceled last year because of the risk of infection.

“The family members can visit the facility only if they are vaccinated,” said Harris. “If we are serving refreshments, the guests cannot be with the seniors because everybody would have to take their masks off, but they can still visit their loved ones either in the public area or go to their apartments, but we are asking them to keep their masks on.”

Various fun activities and events are planned to entertain seniors on Christmas Day, followed by dinner and a Christmas movie, added Harris.

Similarly, the Highlands in Topsham, a retirement community with more than 400 residents, is not having any large-scale celebrations this year.


“We have suspended all our large gatherings in the community due to the COVID-19 crises that we are having right now,” said Melinda Jenkins. “We will have a brunch on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and that is pretty much it. The families can visit residents, but there won’t be any large-scale celebrations.”

Several restrictions were enforced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that closed facilities to visitors in March 2020. It has issued several revisions since.

On Nov. 12, the federal agency lifted all the restrictions and advised the nursing homes and senior facilities to allow visitations.

Long-term care facilities have been especially vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. As of March 2021, at least 372 seniors died of COVID-19 at these facilities. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention went from opening just three outbreak investigations in July to 18 in August and 22 in September, according to a report published in Bangor Daily News.

The rise in infections hit nursing homes too. There were 141,595 resident COVID-19 deaths across the U.S. as of Dec.12.

Last month, there were about 20 active cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff at the Dionne Commons Assisted Living facility in Brunswick.

As of Thursday, 140,536 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in total statewide, resulting in 1,472 deaths.

According to a recent study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative emotional impact on adults ages 50 and up.

Regardless of gender, over half of adults aged 50 and up reported experiencing social isolation during the pandemic. At least 54% of women said they lacked motivation, felt more anxious than usual during the pandemic, according to the report.

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