People of all ages can make a mark during this difficult time

Posted 5/22/20

In 1963, John F. Kennedy was the first president to designate May as a special time to celebrate the current and past contributions of older persons to our nation. Every year since, presidents have …

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People of all ages can make a mark during this difficult time

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In 1963, John F. Kennedy was the first president to designate May as a special time to celebrate the current and past contributions of older persons to our nation. Every year since, presidents have followed suit, including President Trump, who recently proclaimed May as Older Americans Month.

Similarly, over many years the Chatham County Board of Commissioners have added their support for this special month. The year 2020 is no exception.

On April 20th, the board passed a resolution recognizing that “we are a stronger community when all residents — young and old — can use their time, talents and life experiences to the best of their abilities to contribute to the greater good.” The commissioners added that this is “never more evident than during this unprecedented period of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sadly, with the stress of COVID-19, there is some growing evidence across the country of impatience, blaming, and lack of empathy as people struggle with the public health precautions necessary to combat the spread of this deadly virus.

The frustrations are understandable. People naturally are very concerned about the loss of jobs and income insecurity.

I have great concern for the overt expressions of some and the likely innocent actions of others whose failure to follow recommended public health measures place additional risk on those disproportionately impacted by the disease. As of last week, while persons aged 65 and older made up 20 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, this age group accounted for 85 percent of the state’s deaths.

A recent Los Angeles Times story portrayed the anxiety of seniors sensing ageism in comments and behaviors that pit their lives against a weakening economy and restlessness among those yearning for normalcy.

These words of Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, himself 70 years old, exemplify the tension: “Let’s get back to living.” More pronounced are the signs of some opposing restrictions—with one of the more extreme being that of a Tennessee protester: “Sacrifice the weak, reopen.”

In Chatham County, we should take pains to avoid adopting an “us vs. them” attitude in light of the pandemic. Each of us can take reasonable and informed actions as we phase into reopening our society, while still showing respect and doing our part to protect those in our community who are at highest risk.

It is clear that relatively simple measures can go far to decrease the spread of this very contagious and deadly virus, but it takes everyone doing their part. We’re all in this together.

Some of the vital public health practices we suggest include:

• Keeping your physical distance from others outside your immediate family;

• Wearing a mask or other face covering at work or otherwise in public (including grocery or hardware stores); and

• Following good personal hygiene practices (e.g., frequent and thorough handwashing).

While reports may suggest that younger generations are growing impatient with their elders and those in other at-risk groups, the support for seniors we see within our local community reflects a heart for treating one another with a common dignity.

Both young and old have offered to help Chatham County’s seniors through the COVID-19 crisis, from UNC Nursing students offering fun and educational online activities for homebound seniors to UNC Medical students taking the initiative to deliver groceries and needed supplies to seniors who cannot leave their homes, to the Council’s younger supporters donating supplies for seniors’ pet companions, to local families dropping off balloons and flowers to brighten seniors’ days.

We are moved and encouraged by the outpouring of support we have seen for Chatham County’s seniors.

This year’s national theme for Older Americans Month is “Make Your Mark.”

This is a time when people of all ages can make a positive mark today and for the future by rejecting ageism, which divides us, and instead rallying to assure a healthy society where people of all ages feel welcomed and respected. We’re grateful that Chatham County is leading the way.


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