With the first case of COVID-19 confirmed in Wilson County on Wednesday, the community is taking steps to protect its elderly population.
Adults 65 and older are at higher risk for severe illness due to the virus, and census data estimates that group makes up 15.7% of the county’s population.
The Lebanon Senior Citizens Center has been closed through April 1 as a result of the risk, but its employees are still working to provide food and comfort to elders at home.
“We’ve been texting, calling and putting together food boxes for people,” Assistant Director Teresa Botts said. “We got some food boxes from Second Harvest Food Bank, and Beth Petty with the Lebanon Special School District sent us some bags of essentials, so a lot of our meal deliverers are going out in the morning with these supplies.”
The center is currently accepting donations for essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, but Botts said outreach goes a long way too.
Mt. Juliet Senior Activity Center staffers agree, and are working to stay in touch with its members during a closure period running through April 3. Employees are still available by phone during normal business hours.
“We’re a nutrition site for Meals on Wheels, so they’re still coming in every morning and delivering meals as normal,” Executive Director Valissa Saindon said. “They’re going to start live streaming our tai chi classes through Facebook, and we’re doing telephone reassurance and have increased our call list.”
Saindon added that community members should be checking in with seniors in their own lives.
“Keep your neighbors, church members and anyone else you’re aware of in your mind,” she said. “Some people still drive, but a lot of them aren’t right now because of the situation and they may need help.”
Botts also said people should avoid buying too many groceries because of the impact on elderly populations.
“I think the biggest thing the community can do is quit hoarding groceries so seniors can find what they need,” she said. “They can’t get in there and fight elbow to elbow with everyone, and they’ve been having trouble getting food and prescriptions.”
Some local businesses are responding to that situation with designated senior shopping hours, meant to allow elders to buy what they need early and limit exposure.
“We’ve been disinfecting all surfaces and doing senior hours from 7-8 a.m.,” Lebanon CashSaver owner Eddie Robertson said. “We did it on Wednesday and it was a huge thing. The only thing we’re going to be short on is bread.”
As of Friday, the store is continuing senior hours, but staff plans to take the situation day by day. Robertson said all goods are carrying their normal prices despite increased demand.
Dollar General stores nationwide have also designated their first hour of operation for seniors until further notice effective Tuesday.
“We appreciate our customers’ understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need,” Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said in a news release. “During these unprecedented times, Dollar General is diligently working to meet the ongoing needs of our customers and communities.”
For those who may not be able to leave home for groceries, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) is working to provide delivery services through Meals on Wheels partner sites.
“Our partner locally is the Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency,” TCAD Communications Director Ryan Ellis said. “We offer two types of meals: congregate and home delivery. All the congregate meal sites have been shut down … we’ve moved them to shelf-safe meals or frozen meals so they’re still getting meals in a different format.”
Congregate meal sites in Wilson County include the Mt. Juliet Senior Activity Center and Lebanon First United Methodist Church, and Ellis said neither is expected to be carrying out parking lot distributions during the closure.
“As far as home-delivery clients we’re still serving meals, but we’ve changed our model to one hot meal and four frozen meals a week,” Ellis said. “That also helps us to accommodate our congregate sites.”
There are currently 30 congregate meal clients and 68 home delivery clients in Wilson County. Those looking for assistance may call TCAD at 1-866-836-6678 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
While organizations across the community are making sure seniors are fed, there are many other ways to lend a helping hand.
“So many are calling the senior center just because they want to hear our voices,” Botts said. “They miss each other so much, and the main thing people can do is check up on their elderly neighbors and see if they need something. You can check their mail, lend them some groceries, or even pull out the church directory and find someone to chat with to keep them company for a while.”