Residents at retirement homes across Newfoundland and Labrador are largely cut off from the outside world as the Omicron wave rages on.
About 80 residents at Bishops Gardens, a personal care home in St. John's, are stuck in their rooms for another week due to a COVID-19 exposure. That means long, lonely days — especially for those who are unable to connect with family and friends over the phone or via the internet.
On Friday, the home began recruiting community volunteers to participate in virtual visits with residents through a program called Tea and a Yarn.
"We're hoping to connect residents by telephone with people in the community, so they'll have someone chat with," said Edwin Richards, a Bishops Gardens resident currently in quarantine.
In an interview with CBC News, Richards said connecting with family and friends is essential while isolating.
Volunteers can sign up through the Bishops Gardens Facebook page and will be assigned a resident to have a Tea and a Yarn with over a video call.
Richards said the visits will not only help lonely seniors — he said they'll lift the spirits of the volunteers, too.
"They get to know their experiences and [have] someone to chat with, and hear stories, hopefully uplifting stories that will cheer them up," he said.
A need for socialization
In a statement on Friday, Eastern Health said there are ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 at 24 congregate living facilities in the region, including eight Eastern Health-run long-term care homes and 16 privately-run personal care homes, community care homes and assisted-living facilities.
All residents at Bishops Gardens have tested negative for COVID-19; the home has avoided an outbreak like the ones seen in other facilities. However, as per public health guidelines, residents have to quarantine for the full two weeks.
Mike Powell, president of Fort Amherst Healthcare, which owns Bishops Gardens, noted that while some residents have a support structure of friends and family, others rely on their community within the home, and are currently missing out on that social interaction.
"There's a great need for any sort of socialization or mental health support that we can provide as a community," he said. "It's a really great chance for us as people just to rally around our elders and try and support their mental health as much as possible during a difficult time."
Though Tea and a Yarn started at Bishops Gardens, the company is rolling out the program at its home in Corner Brook and its other one in St. John's.
Powell said they're looking for volunteers from all walks of life, and he suggested it may be a good classroom activity, too.
"We look forward to seeing what kind of relationship development comes out of this," he said.
Meanwhile, Richards said he's been keeping busy while quarantined — and he has advice for those in similar situations.
"Watch a comedy on TV, turn off negative news," he said. "Read a book, tell a joke … and most of all, keep in touch with family and friends and have hope that COVID restrictions will be eased a little bit."