At a South Seattle long-term care facility, a lobby fills with reunions as COVID-19 restrictions lift

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94-year-old George and 89-year-old Mary Kozu, who live at The Lakeshore senior residence, are visited by their great-grandchildren Austin Joji Holt (four months), Jyler Terada (6) and Rysic Terada (2) in the house for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began on Sunday March 21, 2021. Austin's middle name Joji is Japanese for George, in honor of his great-grandfather.  Governor Jay Inslee announced last week that long-term care facilities could reopen after a year of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  216680 (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Two young boys entered The Lakeshore, smiling from under their Pokémon masks, and looking at the balloons floating in the lobby of the senior residence in South Seattle.

Her great-grandparents, George and Mary Kozu, waited while family members took their temperatures and signed forms stating they had no COVID-19 symptoms. Eventually, Mary Kozu approached her two great-grandchildren, 6-year-old Jyler and 2-year-old Rysic.

The boys hesitated and suddenly shy away from the great-grandparents, whom Rysic only knew from afar when they were back on the terrace, and Jyler had vague memories of how he was inside. But Mary Kozu, 89, asked Jyler if he remembered playing with the toys in her apartment, and a sign of appreciation came over his face. He asked if they could see her.

“You go ahead,” she said as they walked over to Mary and George’s unit. “Which way?” Her great-grandson replied that his memory of the trail was forgotten after a year in the open.

94-year-old George and 89-year-old Mary Kozu, who live at The Lakeshore senior residence, are visited by their great-grandchildren Austin Joji Holt (four months), Jyler Terada (6) and Rysic Terada (2) in the house for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began on Sunday March 21, 2021. Austin’s middle name Joji is Japanese for George, in honor of his great-grandfather. Governor Jay Inslee announced last week that long-term care facilities could reopen after a year of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 216680 (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

They went to the unit and passed the dining room, which is open but has distant tables. “Maybe next time you can have dinner with us,” said Mary Kozu to her family members.

The lobby of the Lakeshore on Sunday afternoon was full of reunions when visitors returned for the first time in a year. A grandmother and granddaughter hugged for a full minute and both wept happy tears. “That felt good after a year,” said the granddaughter. One son brought his father something to take away and was amazed at how quiet it was inside when he was here in March 2020.

Visits to some long-term care facilities in Washington resumed this weekend after Governor Jay Inslee announced last week that residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other care facilities could make indoor visits while the resident or visitor is vaccinated.

Inslee pointed to high vaccination rates and infection controls in the facilities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and most closely blocked to slow the spread of the virus.

The reopening of long-term care facilities is a step forward after a year of social isolation and stress for residents, their loved ones and employees. The disease remains a threat, however; 144 facilities across the state have currently had at least one active coronavirus infection among residents or employees, and indoor visits are prohibited. Masks must always be worn in facilities that allow visits.

Austin Joji Holt, 4 months, holds the hand of his great-grandmother Mary Kozu, 89. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Austin Joji Holt, 4 months, holds the hand of his great-grandmother Mary Kozu, 89. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

George, 94, and Mary Kozu, both Seattle natives who moved to The Lakeshore four years ago, said they were lucky to be able to talk to loved ones from their terrace overlooking a rose garden. Both use computers and stay in touch with family members through email. Friends were serving meals even though the food from their favorite restaurants in Japan doesn’t taste as much as it does in the restaurant, said her daughter Kris Terada.

But that wasn’t the same as being in the same room as her great-grandchildren – Terada joked that the boys are the only people their parents really enjoy seeing.

Mary and George, 89 and 94, meet their great-grandchild, named after George, for the first time. This weekend marks the first in Washington’s long-term care facilities open for indoor visits in a year. Lots of happy tears in the lobby today. pic.twitter.com/paUaYGe5hm

– Paige Cornwell (@pgcornwell) March 21, 2021

In the middle of the visit, the Kozus had another surprise: In the walking granddaughter Trisha Holt with her great-grandson Austin Joji, a babbling 4 month old named after George. (Joji is the Japanese pronunciation for George.) It had been too cold to visit outdoors since he was born, so they saw and held their youngest great-grandson for the first time.

Various family members posed together with the “Welcome back!” Banners and balloons in the background, four generations, all together for the first time in a year.

“That was so wonderful holding him,” said Mary Kozu. “We are so happy.”