“Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to convulse the world, our nation, all 50 states and major metropolitan areas, including St. Louis. Civic-related events continue to unfold at a dizzying and often contradictory manner.   

The very week the United States became the nation with the greatest number of COVID-19 deaths, there were signs that the pandemic might be reaching its peak, with fewer hospitalizations and a decline in shortages of equipment such as ventilators. The news ignited hope that the worst of the pandemic and its restrictions may be ending, though no one has a definite idea of how the nation might be able to ease back into normal life.

Until that time comes, restrictions remain, and remain necessary. In the daily diet of stories about the effects of the virus, too often overlooked is the unacceptable toll COVID-19 is taking on our elderly population. The illness and isolation that affect everyone are hitting nursing home residents and their families particularly hard.  

Elderly people, living in close quarters, many with underlying illnesses, present a fertile breeding ground for the virus. According to the Associated Press, more than 3,300 deaths nationwide have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Locally, cases of illness have been reported at facilities in St. Louis, St. Charles and Festus, among other places. And contingency plans to move non-infected residents elsewhere are hard to come by.

So residents are cut off from their loved ones because of concerns that visitors might catch or transmit the disease. We see poignant images of families “visiting” their loved ones through closed windows; in some cases, families have barely been able to say goodbye before residents pass away.

Those people are hardly expendable, as some commentators have said. It doesn’t help to have comments like those from Bill O’Reilly, who callously said that many who have succumbed to the virus “were on their last legs anyway." Or Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, who hinted on Fox News that senior citizens should be willing to sacrifice their lives to help the nation get back to normal. 

“Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Patrick said. “But don’t sacrifice the country.”

Amid such hardhearted sentiment, families and residents of the homes are being affected in other ways, as staffing is curtailed. A recent New York Times story headlined "Nursing Homes Nearing Crisis in Coronavirus Pandemic” put the situation this way:

"New York's nursing homes have long been chronically understaffed, leaving family members to fill critical gaps, from feeding their relatives to checking for bed sores or infection. Now those family members are barred from entry and existing workers are getting sick quarantined or quitting because the work has become too dangerous."

In addition to our concern over residents of nursing homes, we must not overlook the many elderly people who live isolated and alone at home.  Their needs must be met as well as those in nursing homes. 

The Jewish community is especially vulnerable during this crisis. National and local demographic surveys document the fact that Jews are largely an aging population. And with many seniors unable to negotiate the technical demands of Zoom or FaceTime, their isolation and its negative effects are that much worse. 

In such times, we must not violate the commandment to honor our fathers and mothers and everyone from earlier generations who were there to care for us when we needed their help and their love. Now it is our turn to fiercely advocate for them, to make sure they receive the compassionate care that they deserve, so we will be able to greet them in person when the isolation finally ends.