Jerry Gosslin was one of the many seniors enjoying lunch and a not-too-anxious conversation about COVID-19 at his local Kitsilano Neighbourhood House lunch only two weeks ago.
March 12 was a lifetime ago for him and his table companions, when the mood was uplifting and the conversations were light. They were doing what they usually do, spending time with one another over a weekly hearty meal, unaware that it would be their last gathering for a while.
Four days later, all activities at the neighbourhood house were suspended as social-distancing protocols came into effect. That move came on the advice of public-health officials determined to slow the spread of the virus. Seniors are considered to be among the most vulnerable citizens.
But that hadn’t stopped that group’s members who, until then, hadn’t changed their daily activites that much.
“I’m going on with my life the way I was going on with it, before this whole thing erupted,” said Gosslin at the lunch.
His fellow neighbours and friends chimed in.
“If you live your life in fear, that’s not much of a life,” said William Kinch, an 85-year-old Kitsilano resident.
Gosslin was celebrating his birthday with a friend at the centre that day.
“I turned 66 today. There aren’t enough details about the coronavirus, you know. The radio keeps saying the same thing, and then you hear opinions on the talk shows. I only listen to the radio for my news. So, I haven’t heard anything new. People are infected and then they’re kept under house arrest for two weeks – then what?”
He’s paying attention to the warnings, but doesn’t always follow through.
“Sometimes I wash my hands, sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not anxious or scared about it. There’s no point in fearing something that isn’t exactly in my control. What can I do, apart from just go on with life?”
Kinch grew up in Kitsilano and never left the neighbourhood. He says his health is pretty good and he said he isn’t scared about COVID-19.
“I try to be as careful as I can everyday. I wouldn’t have come to this place if I was scared,” he said. “I’ve suffered from lung problems in the past. Some of them have gotten bad enough for me to have almost died. But I’m still here”
Kinch talked about a study he’d read that that made him think about how often he touches his face. “Researchers studied five, six thousand medical students over several months and found that, on average, people touch their face 22 times per hour. Twenty two times. So, it’s impossible not to consciously touch your face, before washing your hands. I’m just doing my bit by washing my hands and using disinfectant wipes.”
He does admit that it all gets to be a bit much for him.
“I’ve refrained from tuning into news about this. Whatever I hear is from the chatter between country songs that I listen to on the radio,” he said. “It’s really hard to find good songs these days. Now that’s a real problem.”
Getting news through the radio was a common theme for many of them.
Mona Cernezel also gets her news about COVID-19 from CBC, because she loves how it’s not sensationalized. And, like many at the table, she feels as though the media has made everyone go a little overboard.
“It makes no sense to lock seniors up in their house. It’s fatal. My youngest daughter called me up yesterday and said, ‘Mother, I have bought food for you, so you don’t need to go out to the grocery store.’ I now have lots of frozen vegetables, baked beans, and canned soup.”
But she is not having trouble finding supplies.
“The dollar store on West Broadway and Macdonald Street are selling those small hand sanitizer bottles for $2. I always carry that around with me, but forgot it today.”
She recalls a time when she was growing up when her family had a blue quarantine sign on the front lawn.
“Out of the three kids my mom had, one had measles, one had mumps, and one had chickenpox. We were kept in quarantine for like 22 days then and, once one person recovered, the other got it. So even the postman would leave the mail by the sign. We dealt with all of that, so what’s different about the coronavirus?”
Dorian Tchir, celebrating her 80th birthday over soup and salad with her friends, was monitoring the news via radio but relatively unalarmed.
“It was beautiful this morning, and so I went for a walk, without any gloves or mask, or any sort of layer. I wore a light jacket, that’s all. I’m not going out of my way to shut myself indoors. CBC and CKNW give me my dose of the news, so I know what’s going on.”
Only one of the group appeared to be at a higher level of concern.
“I bought a mask before everyone in the stores started fighting over them. I wash my hands, I wash them a lot. It’s a scary thing, you know,” said Theoma Slater, 71, who works at the house as a volunteer. “I have never been big on crowded spaces and lots of people around me, so in a way, this hasn’t changed my lifestyle. I still use public transport, and I continue to carry out my normal activities.”