Salem, like the rest of Massachusetts, is beginning to reopen – slowly, safely and based on science. The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed so much about our society. While the impacts to our economy, daily behavior, and social interactions have all been profoundly impacted, no impact is more heart wrenching than how many of our neighbors have suffered grievous, sometime permanent, harm to their health and even loss of life. As of the date we are writing this, 27 Salem residents have died from coronavirus.
Like so many others who have perished from this terrible virus, the vast majority of those 27 were older adults. We are slowly learning more about coronavirus, but one fact that has been clear from the outset was the increased danger posed to those who are older. To be clear, coronavirus is a danger to people of all ages, but the data have made plain that there are particular risks for older adults. While 1 one out of 5 Americans are over the age of 65, 4 out of 5 American deaths from coronavirus have been in that age range.
As Salem – and our commonwealth – begins to reopen, it is especially critical that our older residents, as well as those who care for them or live or interact with them, remain extremely vigilant and continue to engage in some basic safety practices. These easy preventive steps include maintaining a physical distance of at least 6 feet from other people, using face coverings or masks, frequent hand washing, and remaining at home if you are sick. When compared to the cost of a human life, these simple measures are no inconvenience at all.
Salem is an age-friendly community. We were among the very first in the state to have our Age-Friendly Action Plan certified by both AARP and the World Health Organization. That plan has gone on to serve as a template upon which other cities and towns have modeled their own similar plans.
Salem continues to be a city for all ages. We are pro-ctively addressing all of what the AARP calls the “domains of an age-friendly city” – from transportation to civic participation to housing and more. But, as a community that is open, welcoming, and supportive of people of all ages and all abilities, there is a special responsibility to ensure that we all act to protect the most basic “domain” of our senior population – their health.
This responsibility lies, not only with city government or partner organizations who work with our older residents. It lies with each one of us. As we move closer to whatever our new normal will be, each of us has a personal responsibility to do our part to help stop the spread of this virus. We take these actions, not only to protect ourselves, but to protect our friends, family, neighbors and coworkers as well.
\In the end, our ability to reopen rests entirely on our ability to collectively pledge ourselves to doing these few, simple things. And while these actions in and of themselves may seem small, this is no small matter. The health and well-being of people you know and care about – even your own – is at stake.
Kim Driscoll is the mayor of Salem. David Greenbaum is the city’s health agent. This column is part in a series from the Salem For All Ages task force.