When asked how she feels about her three months quarantined inside the nursing home where she lives, Judie Woolum is blunt: “I hate it. I miss my family so much.”
Members of the Ohio National Guard set out May 29 to perform COVID-19 testing in every one of Ohio’s 960 nursing homes, where residents' age, close proximity and existing health problems put them at radically elevated risk of contracting and dying from the virus.
They had completed testing in 12 by Tuesday afternoon. Although Woolum understands the danger of the virus, she said the long wait indoors — one that will likely become much, much longer yet — has been a danger to her fellow residents’ well-being, too.
“(The decline) has been from depression and loneliness, missing their families,” she said. “My family misses me, too. I have a great family. It’s awful that we can’t be together.”
Woolum’s four years in The Knolls, a Butler County nursing home, included daily visits from her daughter Traci and regular contact with the rest of her extended family: Two other children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Now, she said, she sits alone at meal times and relies on the facility’s activity room for company and stimulation.
Although people in assisted living facilities — communities for people with more physical independence than those in nursing homes — can see their families during outdoor visits, she and her neighbors see theirs only through windows and video chats.
Maj. Gen. John Harris Jr. of the Ohio National Guard described the testing process as a “giant puzzle.” All staff are being tested, and tests are also being performed on a small sample of each nursing home’s residents to determine the prevalence of the virus in that facility.
“It's very difficult to control the virus because we have people who are not only vulnerable, but they're living in these congregate settings,” he said.
Later on, he and his men expect to return to some nursing homes that have already been tested and test them again.
“Our goal here is to save as many Ohio lives as we can,” he said.
Rebecca Sandholdt of the Ohio Department of Health said she sympathizes with people like Woolum and her daughter, who worried aloud on Sunday that Woolum might not be well taken care of without family checking in on her.
“I understand their fears,” Sandholdt said. “I share those same fears with my family for my grandmother.”
Woolum’s 79th birthday is soon. She expects to spend it with a sheet of glass separating her from her family.
“We just want this to be over,” she said. “We want our families more than anything.”