Having played softball from age 11 through 48, including three years semiprofessionally in the women’s league featured in the movie “A League of their Own,” Virginia Barragan likes to keep active.
At age 84, Barragan is a regular at the Stretch Aerobics classes offered to seniors at San Fernando’s Las Palmas Park.
But at the moment it’s not an option for her.
Instead, Barragan is stuck in her home, trying to “pretend like there’s no outside world,” she says.
Health authorities are recommending social distancing for all Americans, especially seniors who are particularly susceptible to the coronavirus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eight out of every 10 deaths reported in the US from the disease COVID-19 are adults 65 years old and older. The estimated percentage of those ages 65 to 84 afflicted by the illness and requiring hospitalization is between 31-59 percent. But that statistic climbs to between 31-70 percent for those 85 years and older.
So Barragan is heeding those warnings. She’s staying indoors, cleaning the house and cooking.
“I’m doing all right. I’m a pretty strong woman,” she said.
Having grown up in San Fernando, Barragan said she knew the importance of keeping extra supplies in her home in case of an earthquake. “I always try to have tuna, canned chicken, pasta, beans,” she explains. “I also have a lemon tree, orange tree and nopales,” she continues, and adds she listens to music and opens her windows to let the sun in and not feel isolated.
Barragan said she’s also staying in contact with friends through phone calls.
“All our neighbors, we’re in communication. We’re all together, staying separate. We ask each other ‘Do you need anything?’” she said. “We don’t see each other, but we keep in touch, we pass information along to one another.”
It’s important to keep the communication flowing with loved ones, something which helps her keep strong mentally, Barragan said. She also makes sure to also stay physically active, even while indoors.
She may not be heading to Stretch Aerobics class, but “I do my stretches, bends, tighten my stomach at home,” Barragan said. “It’s about fine tuning the machine.”
Getting Used To The Lockdown
Cuauhtemoc and Rita Torres are also staying indoors. They are active members of the Senior Club at Las Palmas Park, where they head everyday to spend countless hours with friends. But now they’re in lockdown.
“We’ve only been to doctors’ appointments,” says Cuauhtemoc, 80. His wife is 76.
The Mission Hills couple is now also heading to Las Palmas Park on Tuesdays to pick up the free food they are distributing. That props them up a bit. And they stay in touch with their son in Indiana, and their daughter in Sylmar.
“They worry a lot about us,” Cuauhtemoc said. “My daughter calls us every day.”
They went to Costco recently and — because they were both using canes —they were let inside without having to wait in line.
“We’ve been here for the earthquakes and the Ebola [crisis]. If we keep inside the house and we don’t head outside, we’re going to be all right,” Cuauhtemoc said.
And, “We’re getting used to the lockdown.”
No More Fun
For years, the nonprofit El Club de Oro has hosted dances and other events to entertain and educate senior Latinos in Los Angeles. But the three events they had planned through the end of March were canceled.
“It’s affecting everyone who’s already used to their routines,” says Mary Grados, one of the organization’s founders.
She said the members are “trying to take precautions [and go outside only when] necessary.”
Grados has recommended to members that they stay at home and do not go to places where they could become infected. If they notice a cough or a flu-like symptom, they should immediately call the number the CDC has dedicated to answering questions about coronavirus.
Still, she worries about the mental toll the isolation could have on seniors.
“It’s going to lead them to have more depression, because of the uncertainty and the fear of what’s going to happen,” Grados said.
Especially with churches — another social outlet for seniors who may want the comfort of religious services more than ever— canceling services and events.
“[Some] older people [may] have nowhere to go because they go to masses a lot,” Grados said.
Coping With Isolation
To help cope with the uncertainty and the lockdown, the CDC offers these recommendations:
— Take a break from watching, reading or listening to news stories because repeatedly hearing about the pandemic could further enhance the worries.
— Stretch, meditate, keep a healthy diet and do some other activities you enjoy while indoors.
— And keep connected even if it’s through FaceTime or a phone call.
The “Shelter at Home” order across California also allows for walks around the neighborhood, as long as people stay six feet apart from others.
Something else to take into consideration is prevention at home, something very important for those who live in multi-generational households.
The CDC recommends providing a separate room and bathroom for sick household members (if possible) and cleaning those rooms properly and often. It also stressed not sharing food and drinks, and for those who are ill to wear masks to prevent contagion.
Grados also recommends that seniors have food and drink available, and to avoid kissing or hugging other members of the family as hard as this may be.
“Ahorita es mejor de lejitos (Now it’s better from afar),” she said.