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Mayor Jenny Wilson says she is uncomfortable dropping the mask mandate too soon
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Salt Lake County urges people to find new ways to visit elderly loved ones

FILE: Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, left, in front of the West Side Senior Center, while county workers held signs showing hospitalization rates among age groups. (PHOTO: KSL Newsradio's Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake County Health officials say the spike in COVID-19 cases is having an especially hard impact on seniors.  They say older people still need to be visited, but it isn’t safe to have family get-togethers.  So, they’re helping older people connect with loved ones in a different way. 

It’s widely known that the risk of hospitalization goes up with age.  County Mayor Jenny Wilson says people in their 40s only have a five percent chance of being hospitalized, while people in their 60s have a 31 percent chance.  However, the risk is extreme for people in their 80s.

Wilson says, “18 percent of those who face COVID-19 are passing away.  That is not OK.”

However, she says seniors are in somewhat of a no-win situation.  A lot of the viral spread seems to be coming from small, casual social events like family dinners.  So, they want county residents to keep their distance from their older loved ones to avoid infecting them.  At the same time, older Utahns still need to connect with others. 

Wilson cried as she spoke about her mother-in-law passing away this year.  Even though she didn’t die of COVID-19, Wilson says she still wasn’t able to see all of her family as she passed on.

“As we knew she was slipping away, my husband was luckily able to get in there, but my kids weren’t,” Wilson said, tearfully.

“One of the concerns that we always have at Aging and Adult Services is around social isolation.  We know many older adults are lonely, regardless of a pandemic,” according to Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services Director Paul Leggett.

Even though there are senior centers all over the county, Leggett says many people don’t want to visit them out of fear of getting COVID-19.  So, they launched virtual senior center activities two months ago, and Leggett says they’ve been a huge hit.  Just last week, the department started a tablet-lending library that gives seniors the devices so they can join the virtual activities or use them to make Skype calls.

“We already know this population is one that sometimes gets a little bit forgotten about in the best of times,” he says.

Leggett says the department is still delivering roughly 1,400 meals on wheels per day, plus their staffers are making roughly 5,000 calls to seniors each month to ensure they’re OK.