Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans were unaware of the 1918 pandemic that rampaged across the United States a century before. This involved a highly virulent H1N1 virus, and was estimated to have lasted from 1918 to 1920.
Despite the ensuing 100 years of medical technology under our belts including vaccines, anti-virals, supportive respiratory services and antibiotics to treat bacterial complications, the recent pandemic lasted longer with higher mortality than in 1918. Why? No doubt a larger world population and denser urban living played a role, and possibly this virus was more virulent. But in the U.S. there was a delay in recognizing this threat with false claims it could be easily treated with simple remedies, while the newly created vaccine and facemasks were politically shunned. Historians will forever debate the negative effects it had on the American people.
Some of us are aware of the technological spinoffs of the space program in the 1960s that enhanced our quality of life (cochlear implants, LASIK eye surgery, freeze-dried food, etc.) What are the good lessons from this pandemic? As an advocate for older adults, I would like to point out what we might learn for this population.
Specifically, the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center immediately upon pandemic closure utilized its large parking lot for evening drive-in movies, comedy shows, concerts, food distribution and daily lunch pick-ups. Our northern neighbors in the Antelope Valley had difficulty providing in-home lunch meals to seniors, so under the direction of SCV Senior Center CEO Kevin MacDonald, they provided important nutritious food amounting to over 1 million meals in a year for both valleys!
The Senior Center also transitioned its information methods, providing older adults online news from the city, county, state and federal agencies through phone and Zoom, educating seniors in new technology skills forced upon all of us. The media seemed to think seniors were too old and couldn’t grasp this technology, but they were proven wrong as older generations readily jumped through every hoop, adapting to all the bumps in the road.
As we opened parts of the Senior Center, the most amazing change occurred in, of all places, the bathrooms. They were now “hand- and touch-free.” From entering to leaving, no door handles were touched, flushing was automatic, and hand drying was simple.
Hybrid lectures allow one to learn while still at home, or coming to the center; and we scheduled doctor visits online, while receiving in-home COVID-19 vaccines. We can shop and order food, and visit family members who live across the country — all online. Yep, in the past three years, all of us, especially seniors, have utilized the spinoffs of this pandemic to adapt to the new evolving technology.
From the beginning, some complained about wearing masks, and yet I continue to do so. There are some who just can’t find a way to grasp this newfangled, highly technical facial covering.
At least the lessons learned from the pandemic could have a silver lining — some of which may be tinged by gray.
Dr. Gene Dorio