Two little boys walked into The Lakeshore, smiling under their Pokémon masks and eyeing the “welcome back” balloons that were floating in the South Seattle senior residence’s lobby.
Their great-grandparents, George and Mary Kozu, waited as family members had their temperatures taken and signed forms stating they didn’t have COVID-19 symptoms. Finally, Mary Kozu walked toward her two great-grandsons, 6-year-old Jyler and 2-year-old Rysic.
The boys hesitated, suddenly shy around the great-grandparents whom Rysic only knew from a distance when they had back patio visits, and Jyler had vague memories of being inside with. But Mary Kozu, 89, asked Jyler if he remembered playing with the toys in their apartment, and a sign of recognition came over his face. He asked if they could go see them.
“You lead the way,” she said, as they headed to Mary and George’s unit. “What way?” her great-grandson responded, his memory of the path forgotten after a year of outdoor visits.
They walked to the unit, passing the dining room that’s open but has distanced tables. “Maybe next time, you can eat with us,” Mary Kozu told her family members.
The Lakeshore’s lobby on Sunday afternoon was filled with reunions, as visitors came inside for the first time in a year. A grandmother and granddaughter embraced for a full minute, both crying happy tears. “That felt good after a year,” the granddaughter said. A son brought takeout for his dad and marveled at how quiet it was inside compared to when he was here in March 2020.
Visits at some of Washington’s long-term care facilities resumed this weekend following Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement last week that residents at nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and other care sites could have indoor visits, as long as the resident or visitor is vaccinated.
Inslee cited high vaccination rates and infection control at the facilities, which have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and were locked down the tightest to slow the spread of the virus.
The reopening of long-term care facilities is progress after a year of social isolation and stress for residents, their loved ones and staff members. The illness, however, remains a threat; 144 facilities in the state currently have at least one active coronavirus infection among residents or staff members, and indoor visits are prohibited there. In facilities that allow visits, masks must be worn at all times.
George, 94, and Mary Kozu, both Seattle natives who moved to The Lakeshore four years ago, said they were lucky because they could talk to their loved ones from their patio, which overlooks a rose garden. They both use computers and kept in touch with family members through emails. Friends dropped off meals, though food from their favorite Japanese restaurants doesn’t taste the same as when it’s eaten in the restaurant, their daughter Kris Terada said.
But that wasn’t the same as being in the same room as their great-grandsons — Terada joked that the boys are the only people her parents really care about seeing.
Halfway through the visit, the Kozus had another surprise: In walked granddaughter Trisha Holt with their great-grandson Austin Joji, a babbling 4-month old named after George. (Joji is the Japanese pronunciation for George.) It had been too cold for an outdoor visit since he was born, so this was their first time seeing and holding their littlest great-grandson.
Various family members posed together with the “welcome back!” banner and balloons in the background, four generations, all together for the first time in a year.
“That was so wonderful to hold him,” Mary Kozu said. “We’re so lucky.”