Retirement home mass virus test seeks to fight loneliness


AMMERSCHWIR, France (AP) – Some were born in this maze of small rooms in an old hospital from the 17th century. Many are at risk of dying here. And all of them are currently confined to their rooms, deprived of the simple comfort of human company.

Residents of the Weiss nursing home in eastern France want to chat face to face, play board games, share meals. So everyone donated a vial of blood to test for the coronavirus, as did each member of staff – about 580 tests in all. The goal: to identify who should be isolated and who will have the freedom to leave their room.

“We spend all our days between these four walls – that’s all, we are not allowed to go out. We are not even allowed to go out into the hallway, “said Henry Bohn, a 69-year-old man who suffered a stroke and left him in a wheelchair. “They bring us breakfast, lunch and dinner here in the room. Fortunately, we have the sun these days and it helps, but we are missing the essentials. “

An Associated Press photographer spent two days chronicling the virus in three of 10 nursing homes in the Haut-Rhin region, where comprehensive tests were ordered by local authorities. The Ammerschwir site poses special problems with its small rooms and long corridors, and residents with often severe cognitive difficulties.

“It is difficult for them to remember the rules we give them. When we put on masks, they barely keep them on and they need to socialize and leave their room, “said Sylvie Ghiringhelli, the head nurse.

Some patients wander anyway, regroup in the corridors or take their places in the common room before they can be brought back gently.

Seniors represent a disproportionate share of coronavirus victims worldwide, and this is especially true in nursing homes, which have experienced a horrible number of deaths worldwide.

In France, deaths in nursing homes represent more than a third of the 17,000 coronavirus victims in the country – figures that the government is now meticulously documenting after weeks of pressure. Infections swept across 7,000 senior residences across the country, with more than 15,000 confirmed cases among patients and 8,900 among staff between March 1 and April 14.

And no one has been more deadly than in the East of France, near the border with Germany, where the epidemic began during an evangelical gathering in the city of Mulhouse. Overall mortality in the Haut-Rhin increased by 143% from March 1 to April 6, according to government figures.

Restricting residents to their rooms can lead to another type of toll.

“The confinement stopped all collective meals in the dining room, stopped all forms of social life,” said Ghiringhelli. “There are no more activities, no more visits. Our residents bear the consequences. “

Marie Louise Kopp’s room is full of memories – photos, porcelain cats, octagonal paintings – to help jog a 79-year-old memory that is growing and shrinking.

“My son came to visit me and a family, but now no one can,” she said, a blank newspaper on her lap. “Everyone is staying at home with this crisis. “

It is not known when visitors will be released again, but nursing home staff hope that everyone will allow most residents to leave their rooms without fear of infection. The results are expected next week, and local government and retirement home managers will then meet to discuss next steps.

Elsewhere, France closed retirement homes after two positive tests and simply assumed that anyone with symptoms was infected.

“The tests may allow us to partially resume life, joint meals and small group activities,” said Ghiringhelli. “And to repair social ties. “


Lori Hinnant reported from Paris.


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