Chicago and Illinois are now fully reopened after more than a year of restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus, lockdowns and isolation were all especially severe among residents in senior living communities. Those residents were also among the first in the country to be fully vaccinated and begin to emerge cautiously toward pre-pandemic normalcy.
At The Admiral at the Lake on Chicago’s North Side, fitness classes once again happen in person, choir practice is back and overgrown hairdos can finally be trimmed at the salon in the building’s main level. WBEZ visited the facility multiple times during April and May after most residents were fully vaccinated. Here’s a look inside the community.
Staying active to “keep our sanity”
“In fact, I probably shouldn’t say this: The reason we meet on the sixth floor is we were not sure we were allowed to be outside, so we were kind of sneaking out through the alley when we first started,” resident Pat Martino said. “Now that we’ve been doing it for over a year, it’s even listed in the happenings as a daily activity.”
Others relied on Katie Cavanaugh, the Admiral’s group fitness instructor to broadcast classes right to their apartments through a closed-circuit TV channel.
“Food time is such a social time normally”
After months of meals being delivered to apartment doors, residents can now gather in the sixth floor dining room.
“The only good thing was the staff who used to ring our doorbells. We were able to make friends with the staff in a way maybe we hadn’t before,” Bindy Bitterman said. “They’d come and they’d be wearing masks and they’d take your temperature and they’d bring your lunch or your dinner and you sort of got to chatting.”
“The beginning of the end”
The Admiral began administering vaccines in late December, but it hasn’t all been smoothing sailing to the end of the pandemic. Instead, it’s been more of a cautious reopening process, along with occasional shutdowns in parts of the building as the result of a positive COVID-19 test.
“There was singing and dancing at our first clinic day, Dec. 30,” said Nadia Geigler, The Admiral’s CEO. “It felt like the beginning of the end and nobody knew how long the end would take or how many twists and turns there might be, but that was a hopeful day.”
“We were crying every day seeing these family members”
Early in the pandemic, all interaction with family and friends was done digitally. Then there were the kind of drive-thru visits that were prone to go viral. Eventually, outdoor visits were allowed, and finally guests were allowed inside. Emotions were high at every stage.
Although life has largely returned to normal, the pandemic took away more than a year when time feels especially precious.
“Our children have a different perspective on this because they’re looking forward to decades of life ahead of them. Those of us who have gone through this in this building are not looking forward to decades,” said Joan Bliss, who resides at The Admiral with her husband Hank and their trusty dog Spice. “This last 15 months has definitely impacted the way we view time and the way we view the future and the way we value the present, particularly the healthy present.”