Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) – People who live and work at Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City spent Monday afternoon snacking on cupcakes and sipping on champagne.

“And just briefly, enjoying each other’s company, which we haven’t done very often,” Gary Pacha, a resident at the facility, said.

Monday — one year after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Iowa, specifically in Johnson County — was the first time in a long time so many residents at Oaknoll were able to gather together inside, now that every resident and 92% of employees had received their vaccine.

It came after a year that was challenging and stressful at times. Oaknoll put its COVID-19 restrictions in place on March 9, 2020, the day after the first cases were confirmed, limiting visitors coming into the facility.

“We miss our travel, and we miss seeing the rest of our family out on the West Coast,” Herbert Wilson, another resident, said.

“You don’t see much of your neighbors, and you miss the physical contact with people,” Pacha added.

But Monday’s gathering at Oaknoll wasn’t about the challenges brought by the last 365 days. Instead, the “Silver Linings Celebration” was focused on finding the positives from the past year. Residents and staff could write their “silver lining” from the last year on a piece of paper, all of which will later be posted around the facility for people to read.

Pacha’s top two were the Oaknoll staff looking out for him and having his wife, Nancy, alongside him too.

“It makes a huge difference when you’re isolated,” Pacha said.

Wilson was thankful for health — his own and his neighbors’.

Not a single resident out of the more than 400 people who live at Oaknoll have tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, and staff said only a handful of employees have.

“We’re extremely fortunate in this year,” Wilson said.

Oaknoll Administrator Kim Bergen-Jackson said they couldn’t have predicted the retirement community would be able to accomplish that.

“I didn’t think there was any way we were going to be able to say that. It felt inevitable,” Bergen-Jackson said.

Oaknoll staff said a combination of early restrictions on visitors, a bit of luck, and working together — both staff and residents — kept them healthy.

“When this first started, our residents sewed over a thousand masks for us. So it feels like we just all did it for one another,” Laura O’Conner, the facility’s wellness director, said. As of Monday, residents had made more than 3,000 masks for staff and other members of their community.

“I’m grateful for that sense of community,” Bergen-Jackson echoed.

Now vaccinated, residents like Wilson and Pacha are looking forward to visiting the family they have not seen in so long and spending more days like Monday, being with friends.

“We’re grateful to have made it through,” Pacha said.

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By senior