‘The shot of hope we need’: Lathrop residents, staff receive first dose of COVID-19 vaccine

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  • Navy veteran John O’Meally, 84, and his aide, Reshae Bergeron, wait the recommended 15 minutes after he received his COVID-19 vaccination Monday at the Lathrop senior living community in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lathrop Residents Association Co-president Jack Hjelt of Northampton watches Melissa Mattison, a pharmacist at Walgreens, dispose of the syringe she just used to give him a COVID-19 vaccination at the Lathrop Retirement Community in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Rob Olmsted, Director of Wellness and Care Coordination Services at the Lathrop Retirement Community, talks about the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the senior living community in Easthampton on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Karen Newton, a pharmacist at Walgreens, administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Lathrop Retirement Community resident Marney Smith, 88, right after Smith’s husband, Fred Smith, 96, at rear, received his shot during a vaccine clinic Monday at the senior living community in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lathrop Retirement Community residents Beverly Bowman, left, and Rebecca Wondirskan, both of Northampton. speak to the Gazette after receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations at the Lathrop Community in Easthampton on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Lathrop Retirement Community resident Beverly Bowman talks about getting her first COVID-19 vaccination during a vaccine clinic at the senior living community in Easthampton on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2021 5:19:00 PM

EASTHAMPTON — As residents of the Lathrop Retirement Communities approached the common area Monday, they were met with a long-awaited message. 

“Vaccine Clinic Day!” a sign outside of the building said. “Hope is here!”

Over the course of eight hours on Monday, pharmacists from Walgreens administered the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to nearly all residents and staff members at the retirement community, which has locations in Easthampton and Northampton.

Most residents and staff members eagerly welcomed the vaccine.

Beverly Bowman, who lives at Lathrop’s Northampton location, had been “anxiously awaiting the clinic” and was “elated” to receive her vaccine on Monday, she said.

For now, Bowman recognizes that the vaccine won’t result in immediate changes to her lifestyle. She will continue to wear a face mask, social distance and receive her second of the two doses in three weeks, though it will likely be months before Lathrop eases policies around visiting, group activities and mask wearing. 

Although life won’t go fully back to normal after the second shot, Bowman said she still looks forward to the simple but meaningful ways that protection from the virus will impact her life.

“After the second vaccination, I look forward to giving my son a big hug,” she said. 

Jack Hjelt, co-president of the Lathrop Residents Association of Northampton, had similar hopes. Among residents of the Lathrop Communities, Hjelt thinks that the vaccines will “bring down the anxiety a little bit, make people more comfortable.

“Personally, maybe with getting these shots, I’ll be able to visit my grandkids again,” Hjelt said. He hasn’t seen them in person since March when they went to a UConn women’s basketball game together, just before the virus took hold in the U.S.

Rebecca Wondriska, also a resident of the Northampton location, also looks forward to the vaccine’s eventual impact on day-to-day life.

“I think eventually it will make it much easier,” she said.

In all, approximately 225 Lathrop residents received a first dose of the vaccine on Mondayalong with staff members as part of the first phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program. 

Lathrop offers two types of housing: the Inn Apartments for those who need more support, and townhomes. Forty-six out of 48 residents in the Inn chose to receive the vaccine, according to Rob Olmsted, director of Wellness and Care Coordination at Lathrop, and all but three out of 180 townhome residents. 

“There are some who are a little anxious, but there’s high enthusiasm for sure,” Olmsted said. 

Tom Wright, director and CEO of Lathrop Retirement Communities, echoed this sentiment. 

“It’s definitely the shot of hope we need to get through to the next season, literally,” Wright said, noting that “the mood is really elevated” among residents.

Once the majority of residents and staff have been vaccinated, the communities may ease measures to resume communal dining, allow staff to wear surgical masks instead of N95s and possibly extend visitor policies. But those changes are at least three months down the line, Wright said, and depend on case numbers in the community and surrounding areas. 

“The virus is still alive and well, so we’ve been super conservative in that regard,” Wright said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”

The communities had a total of three confirmed COVID-19 cases, all of which occurred among residents in the townhomes. All three people who became ill have since recovered. 

Hjelt said that residents have also stepped up to protect each other, both in terms of social distancing and finding creative ways to connect virtually and outdoors in the warmer months.

“Neighbors look out for each other,” he said. “You’ve got a range of people, some more vulnerable than others.”

Alongside residents, most staff members were also vaccinated Monday. Shannon O’Connor, a marketing assistant who received the vaccine, said she and her fellow co-workers were grateful to be in the first phase of the vaccine rollout.

“I think everyone will feel a sense of relief when this is done,” she said.

The first phase of the vaccine rollout includes health care workers providing direct COVID-19 care; residents of long-term care facilities, rest homes and assisted living facilities; first responders; those in congregate care settings, such as prisons and shelters; home-based health care workers; and health care workers providing non-COVID-19 care.

The second phase, which is expected to begin in February, extends to people with at least two comorbidities; individuals age 75 and older; residents and staff of public and private low-income affordable housing; other workers including early and K-12 education, grocery, sanitation food and agriculture services; adults 65 and older; and individuals with one comorbidity.

The third phase includes the general public and is expected to begin in April. A full overview of the phased rollout is available at mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-vaccine-distribution-timeline-phase-overview

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