A Conversation with Dr. Shah

A Conversation with Dr. Shah by Phyllis Bailey
This summer I had the good fortune to listen in on a conversation between Ms. Lori Parham, Director of AARP Maine and Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine’s Center of Disease Control Director. Much of the reason that Maine has continued to experience flat or declining rates of Covid-19 while cases explode elsewhere is Dr. Shah’s calm, science-based leadership and collaboration with other state leaders. Here are some key things I learned from their conversation:

How can we continue to keep the number of people affected by
Covid-19 in Maine low?

People in Maine have been and are working hard to protect themselves and each other which led to a decrease in cases, deaths and the overall positivity rate. As stable as this feels, it is not the time for a victory lap – things could change quickly. So we are asking people to keep: 1) Wearing masks, 2) socially distanced 6 feet apart, 3) Go places at less crowded times of day, and 4) Check to see what safety practices businesses/stores/organizations have in place to protect you. For example, is there plexiglass at the counter, are staff and customers wearing masks, is there outdoor dining if you want it, etc.?

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on older adults in Maine?

As you might expect, Covid-19 disproportionately affects older adults. 28% of Maine cases are people 60+. Yet in Maine, 90% of the Covid-19 deaths are people over 60. But less than 50% of the deaths in Maine have been at a long-term care facility – the rest are among people living outside of long-term care facilities. Masks and social distancing go a long way in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

So what about opening Senior Centers, Libraries, Recreation Centers, etc,?

We don’t want to discount the value of social engagement despite the virus and create an epidemic of loneliness. The answer is not “to open or not”, or “to stay home all the time or not” – it is not 2 extremes. Rather – it is how do places open in a way that is safe, and how do you go out in a way that is safe? It is more about thinking on how do you minimize risks? Some of the basics are:
A) Keep the number of people below the maximum allowed in a space
B) Help people to keep their distance with clear markings, separated seating, etc.
C) People need to wear masks. It is protecting you, your family and your friends. Those in our midst with immune suppressed conditions may not look like it when they are out. Masks are now required in most public places.
D) They are still not recommending group or congregate meals. However, knowing food insecurity is present, access to Meals on Wheels was broadened through additional funding to anyone over 18 with a disability & anyone over 60. (Call Spectrum Generations at 207-607-4406).

Can older adults vote safely this fall?

Yes, older adults can vote safely. There are 2 ways. Use an absentee ballot, which you can get from your city clerk or town administrator. An application can be picked up in person, requested on the phone or by email now. City clerks and town administrators can answer questions. Or go to the polls and vote in person. To minimize your risk, wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart, go at less crowded times of day, stay on the marked one-way paths and in front of the plexiglass protecting poll workers.
Dr. Shah ended the conversation with a recognition that this is an evolving situation that can and probably will change as the pandemic progresses, testing & treatment strengthen and hopefully a vaccine is created. His heartfelt closing comments make a lot of sense right now: “Please be kind and take care of one another”.

Submitted by Ms. Phyllis Bailey, Bath City Councilor, Ward 1. Phyllis recently retired as National Director of the Coventry Service Program for Coventry CareLink long term care insurance company. She’s spent her career working to create options for older adults to age how and where they chose including: development of corporate elder care initiatives for large companies; start-up and management of assisted living developments; and creation of products to help caregiver employees around the country take care of older loved ones.