Coronavirus Ravaged a Choir. But Isolation Helped Contain It.

It was a chilly evening in Mount Vernon, Wash., on March 10, when a group of singers met for choir practice at their church, just as they did most Tuesday nights.

The full choir consists of 122 singers, but only 61 made it that night, including one who had been fighting cold-like symptoms for a few days.

That person later tested positive for the coronavirus, and within two days of the practice, six more members of the choir had developed a fever. Ultimately, 53 members of the choir became ill with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and two of them died.

The event, which was reported in March by various news organizations, demonstrated how contagious and dangerous the coronavirus is, especially among older populations. The median age for those attending the practice that night was 69.

A study since then has showed that swift action by the

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Three Weeks in April: An E.M.T. Crew Faces Exhaustion, Isolation and Death

After three years living in Nairobi, Kenya, working as a photojournalist throughout Africa and the Middle East, I decided I wanted to move home and pursue a career in public safety. I had always been interested in emergency medicine and was an emergency medical technician in college, so I got recertified and was hired by Empress Emergency Medical Service in a suburb of New York City last September.

I remember reading briefly about the coronavirus earlier this year but not thinking much of it — until the second documented case in New York State was announced in early March, in Empress’s coverage area, New Rochelle.

As cases multiplied, and our work became riskier and more intense, I felt an obligation to document. Over the course of three weeks in April, I photographed my colleagues as we worked to do our part to combat the pandemic that has frozen our country.

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Just What Older People Didn’t Need: More Isolation

When the committee looked for promising solutions, it found studies showing that attending exercise programs helped reduce isolation — not a useful approach at the moment. The evidence for much-heralded technological approaches, from robotic pets and Zoom to voice-activated assistants, remains thin thus far.

How, then, to help older people maintain their social connections when they’re supposed to be socially, or at least physically, distanced? Individuals and organizations around the country are proposing and trying a variety of tactics.

Dr. Covinsky, particularly concerned about restrictions on visitors to older people at home or in senior facilities, has suggested that as coronavirus testing becomes more broadly available, family members or friends who repeatedly test negative could become “designated visitors,” permitted to spend time with their quarantined loved ones.

“We have restricted something that’s pretty essential,” he said. “We need to move away from thinking of visitors to old people as optional.”

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