Unfazed, lonely, worried: LA seniors’ feelings on coronavirus and self-isolation orders

As we adjust to the new reality required by the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom has called for people over the age of 65 to take special precautions. The state’s 5 million seniors have been told to “self-isolate.” That means stay home, and stay away from everyone else. 

But not all older Angelenos are convinced that the risk requires staying at home.

Peter Spencer, 65, lives in Westlake Village. That’s just over the Ventura County line. To date, public places like gyms and bars have not been forced to close there. 

“I’m not changing anything that I do. I’m probably more reluctant to shake hands with people that I might otherwise be. … This is not affecting where I go, or what I do, or what my level of activity is.”

He says so far, he knows more people that have died because of cancer or heart attack or suicide. So until the fatality numbers look more ominous, he’s not worried.

“When I look at the numbers, I really don’t feel scared or threatened,” Spencer says. “I’m really not familiar with the situation or the demographics of what they are but, when we look at other causes of death, this is not really frightening to me.”

Up until last week, Steve Klatzker, 73, wasn’t staying home.

On Thursday, he went to his volunteer shift at Homeboy Industries. He wore gloves and a face mask however. 

“I'm in a more high-risk group. Plus, I have pulmonary issues. So that adds to my high risk-ness, and it might have been foolish to come out today, but I'm still happy I did,” he says.

His next volunteer shift was scheduled for today. But he’s opted to stay  home since Mayor Garcetti announced the closure of all bars, dine-in restaurants, and other social gathering places. 

“After having some family members suggest that we don't know yet what's going on in LA, and maybe we should just see how things lie. And especially with certain medical issues, that it probably would be foolish not to just stick around the house and stay warm and safe,” Klatzker says. “But I would rather be going to Homeboy's and help out there than not. But it’s sort of out of my hands at this point, I think.”

Klatzker has a message for people who want to continue with normal life because they’re younger and have a lower risk from the disease: “The idea that coronavirus will not be a problem if you're healthy ... well, that's a rather selfish way to look at it. I mean, most of us used to be very healthy, and the alternative is not being around. But I'm glad I'm around, even though I have some challenges. So we try to do the best we can, don't we?”

These next few weeks aren’t going to be easy on him and his wife. Social distancing means he’ll start missing out on weekly visits from his family. That includes visits from his granddaughter.

“Loneliness is a pretty awful thing,” he says. 

Jose Gomez, 75, finally made the transition to staying indoors. It was mainly because his granddaughter required it. They live together.

He jokes that she’s his prison guard.

Since they started social distancing from others, they watch operas together. His granddaughter says it keeps him calm. 

For now, Gomez is following the rules, but also not worrying too much.

“Maybe this is the point of view of an old man. Yeah we do have a situation, but the last thing we need to do is panic. We need to do the things they recommend, stay there, and be calm and cool. But that is possible because I’m too old, I don’t react too much to that.”

State and local officials estimate that there are many more cases than the tests have revealed. A shortage of supplies has made it challenging to determine how many people have been infected. That’s why folks like 72-year-old Julie Strnad aren’t taking any chances.

“There is this ominous feeling that things are going to get worse, it’s going to get more complicated,” she says. “I have a heart defect, and I see a cardiologist regularly, and I take medication because of that, so I don’t feel sick. But I guess I’m in that group. I do kind of think about that.And think I need to be as careful as I can be.”

She says she’s managed to pass the time by reading more, spending more time gardening in the backyard, and allowing a few indulgences.

“I bought myself a bag of chips, which is something I don’t do. It was like the guilty pleasure. I’m going to be trapped in my house. ... I’m going to eat chips.”

Are you a senior looking for resources? 

As of March 16, all public LA county facilities are closed. That includes 23 county community and senior centers, as well as the 29 senior recreational and multipurpose centers throughout the city. 

In order to continue providing seniors with critically-needed meals, the County is setting up pick-up sites for meals. However, older adults will need to send a family member or other caregiver who is under the age of 65 to pick up pre-packaged/frozen meals. 

Below is a map of meal sites found throughout LA County.