At Maine Retirement Facility, Residents Take Threat Of Coronavirus Spread One Day At A Time

Mar 26, 2020

It's been less than two weeks since two cases of coronavirus were identified at a Falmouth retirement community.  The most recent Maine CDC reporting says there are six residents or staff who've tested positive for the virus, and life there now is far different than before. But despite the isolation and uncertainty, some residents are taking events in stride.

The 400-plus residents of OceanView live in varied situations, from independent arrangements in stand-alone cottages and in apartments, to assisted living and memory care facilities.

Roberta Stotthart, a Los Angeles transplant, says she waited seven years for a first-floor garden apartment to become available. "And then one day they called and said, 'Have we got just the perfect apartment for you." And I said, 'You know what? I'll be there in five minutes.' And I walked in and I said, 'Oh, that's a beauty. I'll take it."

That was three years ago, and the 86-year-old Stotthart hasn't looked back - although it was disconcerting, she says, when she learned earlier this month that this strange new virus apparently had surfaced close by.

"That was a shock," she says. "We thought we were kind of isolated up here and would get through without anyone getting sick. But my neighbor who is sick now had someone to a dinner party with her weekly group of about eight people -- they would eat dinner at the grill right here in the building and one of those people got sick."

Soon word went out from OceanView's management: One person living in one of the cottages had tested presumptively positive for the coronavirus, other residents were being monitored, and residents should stay in their rooms as much as possible - food and supplies would be brought to them.

Local officials partially closed the roads into the campus - allowing only authorized visitors there. It's a marked change for this ordinarily gregarious community.

"There's no one standing around in the halls talking," Stotthart says. "In a normal day everybody's out and about chatting. Absolutely now it's deserted. No one is in the halls and even some of the help has been cut back, like our weekly maid is not coming and the cleaning ladies, and we're on our own completely."

Stotthart is able to literally talk over the fence to one of her daughters, Betta, a Falmouth resident who makes daily visits. She seems a little more worried about the situation than does her mother.

"So I got to her screen door and her porch and I leave food," Betta Stotthart says, "and she'll come out on the patio and, well, stand six feet away or more. And we've been having conversations and just checking in with each other. And I just want to see her every day, and she looks fine to me - she seems healthy to me, no symptoms at all."

Betta Stotthart says while OceanView's staff seems entirely competent, the coronavirus is still a daunting threat. She says she's concerned that the federal government is sending mixed messages - which could encourage complacency and prompt people such as her mother, tired of living in a silo, to unnecessarily venture beyond their quarters.

"Even though they may be doing a superlative job I just feel very, very nervous," she says.

But maintaining a confident attitude seems the rule of the day among some residents. Mollie Heron, 79, lives in one of the cottages. She returned there after a birthday visit to New York City - on the same day that the first case at OceanView was publicized on the grounds, via email and otherwise.

"Everybody has a little wicker basket hanging outside his or her door, and they put notices in there," Heron says, "so everybody also got a written notice."

Heron says the initial shelter-in-your-rooms rule seemed a little harsh, but that's loosened a bit, and everyone is doing their best to find a way to keep positive and active. "I walk every day. My plan is to walk with a neighbor who's not so great about getting herself out, and she has a dog so she has to get out some. And we're going to walk on different sides of the street."

As with Roberta Stotthart, Heron has a daughter living nearby whose anxieties are higher than her own.
"I'm very happy here," Heron says. "You know it is an institution, but it's a very good one and they take good care of us. And I got call from the nurse making sure I was OK."

OceanView owner John Wasileski declined comment for this story, saying through a spokesman he was too busy calling and checking up on as many residents as he can.