The Struggle To Keep Vulnerable Seniors Safe In A Large Coronavirus Cluster A new containment zone in New Rochelle, N.Y., is designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, but officials worry about it reaching seniors, especially those living in nursing homes.

The Struggle To Keep Vulnerable Seniors Safe In A Large Coronavirus Cluster

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to head now to New Rochelle, N.Y., which has one of the largest coronavirus clusters in the United States. The city has set up a containment area to slow the spread of the virus. Schools and places of worship are closed, and all large gatherings have been banned. The National Guard is there, and the state's first COVID-19 testing station opened there, yesterday morning. The biggest worry now is that the virus could reach vulnerable seniors, especially those clustered in nursing homes. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has this report.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Outside a grocery store in New Rochelle, Jamie Fields and Joyce Collins are arguing, a mother-daughter dust-up over how to stay safe.

JOYCE COLLINS: She's very nervous. I just got out the hospital.

MANN: That's Joyce. She's only 57 but was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. They live together just up the street in the center of the New Rochelle containment area.

JAMIE FIELDS: So if we're going to die together, we're going to die together.

MANN: Nervous jokes aside, daughter Jamie says she's not sure what to do to protect her mom while also going to work every day in New York City and taking care of her own kids.

FIELDS: This epidemic is very scary, you know, just because it's just transferring so fast. We got to ride the subways, and then everybody's just clustered on you. Like, I'm nervous, so...

COLLINS: It's a scary thing.

MANN: For now, the rules for the containment area still allow people to move around and go to work, though federal guidelines are urging people in hotspot areas to work from home as much as possible. As COVID-19 cases in New Rochelle continue to rise, Governor Andrew Cuomo says he worries most about people like Joyce Collins.

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ANDREW CUOMO: That is the most dangerous situation posed by this virus - senior citizens, people with a compromised immune system.

MANN: Many of the deaths in the U.S. are tied to a single senior care facility in Washington state. Cuomo says he hopes to avoid that kind of crisis, so nursing homes across New York state have been ordered to halt all visitation. No unauthorized people in or out.

RITA MABLI: Right now, what my job is is to keep residents that we care for safe, to keep them happy.

MANN: Rita Mabli runs United Hebrew of New Rochelle, a nursing home and assisted living community with roughly 500 residents in the containment area. All of them live now under strict lockdown. And the staff, too, face new hygiene rules. Jerome Bagaporo runs the nursing home's clinical program.

JEROME BAGAPORO: We screen every single staff that's coming in the facility by asking them three questions. Do you have any symptoms? You have cough? You have cold?

MANN: Rita Mabli says tensions have risen. Families, some of them living outside the New Rochelle area, are scared and frustrated by the quarantine.

MABLI: There are people who are angry no matter what you do. We've set up Skype and Facebook access so that people who want to visit face-to-face - virtually, face-to-face with their families can use the Skype.

MANN: Noam Abramson (ph) is one of the people directly affected by the nursing home lockdown. He's New Rochelle's mayor.

NOAM BRAMSON: My mother is at United Hebrew, presently. And my brothers and I are not able to visit her.

MANN: Abramson says it's hard when his mom is scared and isolated not to be able to care for her in person.

BRAMSON: It's distressing for family members not to be able to visit each other. There is a real cost that comes along with a policy like this. But fully balancing the pros and cons, I think that this is a sensible policy. And my perception is that most people agree.

MANN: The nursing home quarantine isn't protecting all seniors here. Many live, independently. On the street, I meet Ed Grayson (ph), who's 75. He has an apartment in the containment area and no family, nearby. So he's gone out by himself to buy a few essentials.

ED GRAYSON: What can really be done except be cautious, wash your hands? You just hope for the best.

MANN: The containment area and its restrictions are set to remain in place at least through March 25. Officials say that could change, depending on the virus's spread.

Brian Mann, NPR News, New Rochelle.

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