A COVID-19 vaccination clinic was held Feb. 4 for residents and staff of The Harbor at Renaissance, the memory care unit of Stanardsville’s assisted living facilities. Nearly all of the center’s 55 residents and a majority of staff members received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, which first received emergency use authorization by the FDA in December.
Liesa Dodson, sales and marketing director for the facility, said she was excited for the opportunity to vaccinate their residents because it means a return to a sense of normalcy in the near future.
“We are a very community-oriented assisted living and normally—when we’re not in this pandemic—we have many family members and community folks that come in and do a wide variety of things,” she said. “So it’s been a year, and we’ve not been able to have any of those folks in the building.”
According to Dodson, one of the things the residents miss the most is the ability to have live music in the building.
“One of the things that a dementia patient ... maintains the longest is the ability to recognize music, and it’s been a great joy to have music in the building,” she said. The staff have still been playing recorded music for the residents since the lockdown, but Dodson says it’s just not the same as hearing and seeing it live.
“We miss our families,” she added. “We [pre-pandemic] have a pretty open-door policy for families and we’ve not been able to have families in the building. We normally have a family night where families come in and have dinner with us or have dessert with us ... we haven’t been able to do any of those things.”
In the past 11 months, Renaissance and Harbor staffs have filled in for family members in any way possible for the residents.
“We’ve just had to substitute with our own internal people to do the music and to do some of the different activities,” Dodson said. “We have a full complement of activity coordinators on staff. What we’ve done is what we always do; we’ve tried to really focus on special holidays and make them fun—you know, things like chocolate chip cookie day.”
In addition to FaceTime video chats with family members, the lobby has a comfortable seat set up by a large front window, where in good weather family members could gather outside on the porch to visit with loved ones through the glass.
“We’ve done regular testing here on our residents and staff and we’ve not had any COVID (outbreaks),” Dodson said. “We had a couple of employees that have tested positive, but they were part-time folks that were not in the building. We’ve been checking on a regular basis just to make sure that none of us are carrying and asymptomatic.”
In addition to regular testing of residents and staff, all facility staff wears N95 masks and anyone entering the facility undergoes health screening and temperature checks.
“Given the communal living and the age and comorbidities that these people have, it would be devastating,” said Amber Ralls, executive director of the Renaissance facilities in Virginia. “We’ve been really fortunate that we haven’t had an outbreak but we’re just getting so close to the finish line. A year is a long time for them not to see their family—they’ve seen their family, but not to hug their family ... this is an emotional experience for us. This is the first step to them getting hugged a little more.”
Ralls says it has been a really difficult year for residents but that her staff have really stepped up to ensure they are receiving the very best care.
“Given the community that we’re in, we have a lot of families that are so used to coming on a daily basis, so not having that, the staff are the ones that have been really filling the void,” she said. “They come in after hours and sit with them, they spend holidays with them ... our staff have been so vigilant. We have a ‘hero pledge’ where they promise that they’re going to wear their masks in the community, that they’re not going to socialize unprotected ... the fact that they’ve done that--and it’s proven since we haven’t had an outbreak--we’re very appreciative of it.”
Trying to keep residents’ and staff members’ spirits up has taken a combination of creativity and lots of extra treats, Ralls said.
“This was a really scary time for families, especially new families,” she said. “Can you imagine the prospect of dropping them off and not being able to hug them again? There have been people that have new grandchildren since they’ve been here; not getting to hug a baby? All those little things are so important—in life in general—but in this stage of life even more so. We are looking forward to having springtime outdoors. This year every holiday is going to be a big one.”
In addition to national chocolate chip cookie day, national s’mores day and banana split day, this month the residents will be holding a “prom” for Valentine’s Day and celebrating the Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras. When weather permits, their walking club will also be maintaining their physical exercise in the facility’s small courtyard.
In addition to residents, many staff members received their first vaccine at the Feb. 4 event. An air of nervous excitement filled the small lobby as pharmacy staff members administered shot after shot throughout the day. Staff members were treated to donuts for participating in the event, and the facility was decorated in blue and silver balloons.
As for when she thinks life will begin to return to a semblance of normal, Ralls is cautiously optimistic that someday we will be able to throw all our masks in a big community bonfire. But that day is not here just yet.
“I think the masks are going to stay around for a little while longer until they see ... whether you can be a carrier,” she said. “Everybody in here wears N95 masks, which if you work for 12 hours it’s a lot to have these on, so it may be a step-down thing that we go to surgical masks ... but we’re going to wait on the advice of the CDC and then the Virginia health department on that.”
When can I get my vaccine?
The Blue Ridge Health District (BRHD) is currently vaccinating phase 1A frontline healthcare workers, certain phase 1B essential employees and those who are 75 and older, but pre-registration is available in additional categories, according to Jason Elliott, BRHD communications specialist.
I’m in phase 1A—how can I get my vaccine?
If you’re a frontline healthcare worker, your employer should have submitted a list of eligible employees to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to generate appointments through the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System, or VAMS. These will either be administered on-site through your employer or via one of the BRHD mobile vaccination sites in Charlottesville.
Please check with your boss or HR representative first and then call the BRHD COVID-19 hotline if you still need additional information.
If you or your loved one lives or works in a long-term healthcare facility such as a nursing home, these shots are being administered through federal partnerships with CVS and Walgreens and will be administered on-site at the long-term care facilities. Contact the facility if you need information, not the pharmacy or BRHD.
I am 75 or older—how can I get my vaccine?
Through a partnership with UVA, residents who are 75 and older are currently able to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments through the BRHD. Fill out the survey online or call the hotline (or have a family member do it for you) and wait to be contacted to set up your appointment at the nearest available vaccine clinic.
Shortcut to survey for phase 1B individuals who are 65 or older: shorturl.at/ipxD5
I’m in phase 1B because I am an essential worker —when/how can I get my vaccine?
The VDH has laid out a breakdown of essential employers by category (www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/191/2021/01/Phase-1b-In-Depth.pdf). Currently, the BRHD is scheduling vaccine appointments for essential workers in 1B-1 (police, fire and hazmat), 1B-2 (corrections and homeless shelter workers) and 1B-3 (childcare and public/private preK-12 teachers/staff).
If you are in one of these categories, your employer should have filled out a survey through the BRHD and included you in their list of eligible employees. Contact your boss or HR representative to ensure you are on the list and check your email for registration information from VAMS.
Essential workers in additional categories (food and agriculture, manufacturing, grocery store workers, public transit, mail carriers and government employees) should also ensure their employer has filled out a 1B essential worker survey and included them in the list of eligible workers in order to be contacted when BRHD expands to these categories.
I’m 65-74 years old or under 65 with a high-risk medical condition—how do I get my vaccine?
If you are over 65, fill out the survey for your age category (shortcut: shorturl.at/ipxD5) or call the BRHD hotline (listed below) to make sure you are added to the list to be notified when appointments become available.
If you are under 65 but have one of the high-risk medical conditions as defined by the CDC (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html), fill out the survey for your category (shortcut: shorturl.at/lnwAN) or call the BRHD hotline.
At this time, BRHD expects to move into additional 1B categories in March or April.
I’ve had my first dose—how do I sign up for the second dose that is required?
Starting Feb. 3, anyone who receives a vaccine at a BRHD site will have their second appointment scheduled before they leave the clinic and will take home an appointment card with the date and time.
If you received your first dose prior to Feb. 3 and are concerned about scheduling your second, please call the BRHD hotline or email the health department (BRhealthdistrict@gmail.com).
I’m in phase 1C—when can I sign up for a vaccine?
Currently, partnerships are being set up with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and other providers to be able to schedule appointments once more vaccine doses are available. The BRHD will also expand their vaccine distribution sites as more vaccines become available, and these sites will be posted in our community calendar and on the BRHD website.
- Blue Ridge Health District (BRHD)’s COVID-19 hotline: (434) 972-6261
- BRHD vaccine intent surveys by category: www.vdh.virginia.gov/blue-ridge/covid-19-vaccination
- Breakdown of categories in VDH’s phase 1B of vaccine distribution: www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/191/2021/01/Phase-1b-In-Depth.pdf
- List of upcoming COVID-19 testing sites and locations: www.vdh.virginia.gov/blue-ridge/covid-19-tjhd-testing-sites. The COVID-19 hotline is also still used for testing information or questions on quarantine and isolation policies.