Dancing at Miami elderly care facilities on skids due to social distancing

By Jorge I. Perez

Miami, Oct 11 (efe-epa).- One of the favorite pastimes of Leo Scherker, 96, is dancing the salsa and other ballroom dances, but at the Miami elderly care facility where he lives those activities disappeared when social distancing became required after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, although nowadays at least he can see relatives and other loved ones in person once again.

The mask is uncomfortable, but just like social distancing it’s necessary, said Scherker in a resigned voice during an interview with EFE.

The nonagenarian is one of the 286 residents at a luxury old folks home in Kendall, in the southern Miami metro area, and like all such facilities – high-end or not – it has been closed to visitors for more than six months because of the pandemic and has only reopened, with significant restrictions, in the past few days.

Many families were not able to say their last goodbyes to their loved ones who died there during the isolation period.

One of Scherker’s two sons, Steve, came to visit him after making an appointment and before seeing his dad he had to go through a security procedure that included washing his hands and having his temperature taken.

Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of The Palace Renaissance & Royale, told him that he could not have any actual physical contact – i.e. touching – with his father.

And they social distanced but were happy nonetheless in each other’s presence, enjoying jokes about “acting naturally” in front of EFE staffers, who were videotaping and taking still shots.

The residence is still not open to everyone and is receiving relatives in a phased manner. To visit the site, you have to go through security procedures, said Martinez of the facility that operates “like a five-star hotel.”

Scherker set aside his walker and sat under an awning outside. It’s not the first time that his son has visited him after having to chat through a computer or telephone screen for long months.

The elderly gentleman said he has family in Massachusetts, New York and Miami and he keeps in touch with them via FaceTime, saying that it’s important for them to see him, pulling his cellphone from his pocket.

Retired from the university system, Scherker said that coming to live at the care facility was the best decision because four years ago his wife died and he could no longer care for himself. He took care of his wife until she died, and said he even prepared her meals.

Scherker, wearing a facemask, added that “I needed company” and now he has taught several fellow residents to play table games like Rummikub, although he almost always beats them.

He also said that another of his favorite hobbies is dancing.

One of the women he dances with told her husband that she was dancing with a 96-year-old man, and Scherker said he’s got so much energy that sometimes he dances with “two or three girls.”

But those activities have been prohibited since March, and Martinez, who has been working at The Palace for 20 years, said that they’ve only had five coronavirus cases among workers and residents but none of them with “complications” and all recovered.

Some 20.5 percent of Florida residents are 65 or older, making it the US state with the third-oldest population, after Puerto Rico and Maine (20.7 percent and 20.6 percent, respectively).

More than 6,000 residents and workers at Florida geriatric centers have died to date from Covid-19, according to the state health department.

Recent figures show that about 80 percent of the more than 200,000 people who have died nationwide from Covid-19 have been over age 65.


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