TANDIL, Argentina (AP) — For many at the Reminiscencias home for the elderly, the pandemic has been 15 months of isolation from those they love — of children kept at a distance, of human touch always at least a layer of plastic away.
Eighty-six year-old Víctor Tripiana peered at his son Jorge through a transparent sheet hung across a window and reached out to make contact through the plastic. His daughter in law, too, stretched a hand for comfort.
“This pandemic has hit us bad,” he said, his eyes moist. “You know what's happening? It's like I'm in the air and I don't know what I'm doing."
Nurses and attendants offer comfort: help with a cup, a gentle forehead bump, even the occasional brush of a kiss, mediated by a mask.
But a few, at least, have heir own consolation. Catalina Pisicelli, 93, and Fermín Urban, 92, seem to have found love in the time of pandemic, someone with whom to snuggle.
“What I'm going to say is a sin ... but for us, the pandemic doesn't exist; we live on the moon,” Pisicelli said.
Urban said he's still thinking ahead, telling Pisicelli that when they can leave once more, he wants to take her to Lanus, the city where he was born.
Much of the routine at the assisted living center, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the capital, is as before. The more than 50 residents still have their dance and exercise classes and singalongs, share a toast of champagne at holidays such as Easter.
Outside, the country of 45 million people has recorded more than 2.4 million cases of COVID-19 and about 56,000 deaths.
With cases soaring in Argentina, the home's director, Anahi Soulié, felt obligated to once again install plastic barriers between residents and their relatives, who sometimes stand outside and converse through windows.
“They feel anguish, but it's super useful, it saved us," Soulié said, referring to measures used during a first wave of cases last year.
The face of Pedro Aberastegui lit up when his daughter Debora and his grandson reached to touch him using special sleeves in the protective plastic sheet hung across the door.
As in most countries, the elderly were among the first to be vaccinated in Argentina and the folks at Reminiscencias are due to get their second and final shot soon — with hopes of a return to greater normality.
Seventy-nine-year-old Thelma Amezua, meanwhile, took a bit of solitude on a patio bench, watching the hummingbirds flit between flowers. She said she was well cared for, but yearned for more freedom, to be able to go out for a coffee with her family.
“I feel like the pandemic robbed me of a year of life,” she said. “One goes to the door, looks out and asks, ‘Will I be able to leave again?’”