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What? We're kind of rusty, we haven't played all year. Yeah, a little bit rusty at it. One, two for me, one. How old are you? You know, I'll tell you. Ninety five. Ninety five. OK, you've got a good, good group here.


I thought it was just here, you know. Oh, I was to your birthday party when it was 95. All right. All right. Now, last year, you missed 96. You didn't have no party in my room. Do I my right. You never know about that. So people got one from the world, one from The New York Times.


I'm Michael Barbaro. This is the Daily.


Today, when vaccinations began across the U.S., they started at nursing homes, the epicenters of infection and death throughout the pandemic. Now, as those nursing homes begin to emerge from lockdown, my colleague Sara Mirvish documents what it's like inside one of them in West Virginia.


It's Friday, March twenty six. Hi. Hi. Hi, are you Miss Kucik Zita earlier this year.


In February, I met a woman named Zahra Husak who lives at the Good Shepherd nursing home in Wheeling, West Virginia.


Going to be ninety six next month. No, no, you're not.


Ninety six. I don't believe I am. I talked to Zyda over face time.


There was some medical equipment beeping in the background.


They always tell me I look younger because I act young and I don't dress like an old lady and I like to gamble. I'm a gambler. So I was learned for fifty three years. I wait till I was 30 because I was having a good time and I didn't want to settle down and have no children. I have no time for that.


So tell me about what life has been like during the virus, during covid. What has what has your life been like?


Stuck in our room. And we were just sitting in a room. We used to go up in the hall with an eight foot. We was allowed because they didn't want us to be close to one another. So it was pretty boring. Were you eating your meals and where were you eating? It was flowing because all I did was sleep and watch TV.


What did you watch?


Whatever was on, I love to watch it show. No wedding gowns. Always older women get married in the White House. I was surprised. Well, and my time was a lot of it was in white jealous. You were supposed to be a virgin.


You know, times have changed, Zyda. I don't know what to tell you. Children marinus jokes.


All right. Sure, sure. Hi, Betty Lou. Can you hear me? Yeah, I'm here. Yeah, I'm here. Yes, OK. OK. I also met Betty Lou Beach on twenty four.


So you take your dad and twenty four.


OK, and who was about to turn ninety seven.


What has been the hardest part of the last year for you.


But what's been the hardest part of this whole last year. I think the hardest part is missing your family I. I time for my sister was there and she passed away, that was the hardest time I had and it's been, I don't know, quite an adjustment. She passed away at the very beginning of this pandemic and she didn't care. You weren't able to go to the funeral? No, I would never. Because you are so sorry.


But her sister didn't die of covid, but because of covid, she couldn't grieve with her family or even see much of them.


And I do miss my daughter so very much. You don't know what it is. It is and how beautiful you are when you do see him. But we talk maybe two or three times a day and we always talk every night. We say goodnight to each other every night and she goes in the mornings and then we're OK. What are you looking forward to most when things change and you're able to get back to some normalcy next week with activities?


But for one thing, I'm looking for the dining room door. When I left the dining room, they decorated all the girls down here, took care of it. And you get to see people and that's important to see people. And I really miss the dining room a lot and I'll be the first one there. Thank you so much and I will hopefully see you on Monday. All right. Thank you.


A few days after I talk to Zida and Betty Lou, I get in my car and head to West Virginia.


So it's a little before 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning.


And I'm here at Good Shepherd Nursing Home, and we are about to go inside and hopefully talk to some residents and staffers as they begin to open up for the first time amid the pandemic. They're not doing Visitacion, so will be probably among the only people in there who are not working their.


It's cold out here when I get the Good Shepherd. Is the right entrance. Yeah, OK, I get my temperature taken. Seven and have like I get a rapid covid test. The test, you know, our new cops are better when I'm wearing an eighty five mask and they give me PPE, I have goggles and gloves and that wrestling. Here is my gown. And they asked me to wear a medical gown over my clothes and then I go inside.


This is the first day in nearly a year that the nursing home is having group activities again. I had planned to start my day in the chapel where they were having mass. But then while Mass was going on, I heard this commotion happening outside in the hall. So I sneak outside to see what's happening. Hi, Betty Lou. Hello, I'm Sarah from The New York Times. Yes, I talked to you on FaceTime. How are you feeling?


I see that you're sitting right in front of the with the most exciting day to be in there. I love it in there and I see it.


And in the hallway, I find Betty Lou, who is right outside the dining room. She's dressed up, her hair is curled, and she's wearing a bracelet her daughter had given her.


And you look really nice today. She's ready to be the first one inside the dining room doors for lunch.


Yes, I brought my camera there. You see, we had entered the dining room. How are you ready?


I'm ready for the dining room is decked out for Valentine's Day. It's a formal dining room. There are white tablecloths. There's lots of red and pink tinsel everywhere. There are heart shaped centerpieces at every table. And there even some stuffed panda bears who are carrying hearts that say, I love you for the occasion.


It's on the menu for the day cheeseburgers and potato soup before our employees are walking around with the orders for coffee and tea. But Betty Lou wasn't there for the food or the drinks.


I'm just excited that she has her eyes on the door.


What are you excited about? About the dining room today. It seem to be full.


Here is a map and one by one, people start trickling in a year like today.


Yeah, I'm here now that they're sharing.


What would you like? The residents are chatting amongst themselves everywhere we go. We have really meant that everybody has.


And I'm walking around the dining room getting to know people, you know, yellow, you're able Avon hearing you get dressed up to come to the dining room.


I do. And so does everybody else. Don't know kids here today. Oh, we're all ecstatic about this because this is the first time we've been down here for like six or eight months.


We have not been out of our rooms, even though most of the residents and staff have been vaccinated. The nursing home is still social distancing. There are two people at a table instead of the usual. For many people are wearing masks. Right. Good.


Still, there's a moment when I see two friends who can't help but reach across the table and grasp each other's hands.


As I'm watching this unfold, what stands out to me is the simplicity of it all. Thank you. It isn't some big emotional reunion, but it's something as simple as saying, how are you to a friend that's or being able to ask, how do you like the soup, these small, ordinary moments of connection that so few of us have had this year on time?


Everything takes time. But you know what? We're all that's about your money. No, absolutely. Yes, we see. Yes, that's. At one point, I head out into the hallway where I spot an elderly couple talking quietly. He's sitting on a brown couch wearing a bunch of PPE and ninety five mask, a facial gown. She's sitting across from him in a wheelchair. Excuse me. I'm sorry to interrupt. I'm just a reporter, though, at this point that Shepherd is still largely closed to visitors.


I had heard that some people had recently gotten special permission to see loved ones inside the nursing home. And because he's wearing so much PPE, I wonder if he's one of those visitors. So I go over to them and I ask if I can sit down and talk.


Let me make sure I have your names. Do you mind sharing with me frank and fearless cells?


How do you spell that? Yellow line is yellow.


She's 87 and he's 91. She's been living in the nursing home during the pandemic. He's been at home.


And what was that like for you guys being apart all those months and weeks? Not very nice, but we did have the face time and that. It's still better than nothing Frank had been able to see a handful of times when covid cases were low in the hallway, but it had been a long time since they'd seen each other last October 20th.


The six month anniversary and I was visiting that night and I bought potpies from Bob Evans. We sit across the hall and then the next day they locked it down.


And then finally, just the week before, Good Shepherd allowed him to come visit again.


When you were apart during covid, was that the longest you'd ever been apart?


Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's hard. What did you miss? Seeing my wife in that room. Romney's home state of Mississippi. Oh, he's a wonderful man. So you miss fighting with each other. We still had it today. What were you fighting about? There's always something, huh? Yeah.


No fighting, just tumescence. Seeing children that. No grandchildren. Yeah. What did you what have you missed with. And then that's the biggest thing. I keep saying why I cannot go home. He keeps saying, you know, why, what was it like when you saw each other for the first time again last week?


Really nice get used to this stuff. I never had to wear this before at face guard. Yeah. This time I'm making you wear that. So no kissing? No, no. Stay away from. I don't want to take a chance on doing it. Best to stay away. Now, we should remember that, you know, you have those to keep you going.


Mm hmm.


How long was your visit there? An hour. OK, well, I better get going so I can leave you guys alone. Thank you so much for sharing with me. I start again. Nice to talk to you too.


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This is Kevin.


I'm a tech columnist at the New York Times. So lately I've been covering things like amateur traders on Reddit who banded together to take on Wall Street or how Facebook and YouTube's recommendation algorithms have helped spur the rise of extremist movements like Kuhnen or cryptocurrency, and why people are paying millions of dollars for these things called non fungible tokens. Some of these stories may feel like fads or forgettable, but the thing is, like this stuff matters. It's how the world works.


Now the Internet is changing us and the people who run these platforms are some of the most powerful people in the world. And it's my job to dig into what's happening, to talk to those people and to distill all of this complexity into things that people can understand. Subscribers support all of this work. So please join us and subscribe to The New York Times. You can do that at NY Times. Dot com slash subscribe.


Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the party and everybody.


Yeah, at about 2:00 o'clock, everyone begins to gather for what had been one of the most popular activities before the pandemic, a penny auction.


Are you excited to be back here for the penny auction? Yeah, right.


All of the residents get pennies, which they can use to bid ten pennies.


And there's a big table at the front of the room where a bunch of auction items are set up.


There are cookies and quilts and a stuffed Snoopy and all round residents are spread out in a maze of socially distance wheelchairs.


Betty Lou is there again and so is Zeda to see that it takes her a second to recognize me because I'm covered in PPE.


I didn't know where you are. Well, I know you can't recognize me with all the stuff on. And eventually we get started. We get. The first item up is a handbag with a few things in it.


A body spray, a toothbrush and toothpaste, ladies, deodorant, boy, once you get it, then there's a light on St. Patrick's Day necklace all year long. Look at that, would you? But the hot ticket item looks like a giant tub of cheese puffs while your six or. That's why you're getting. Nine and Betty Lou, who's been awfully quiet so far, decides to go all in, ready for. I've been link on. Down here and ends up taking home the price you owe anybody, any Sabeti, you spent all your pennies on cheese puffs.


Those are good snack guns. Are you happy with your purchase? Thank you all for coming out with all this today. And it's.


OK, so it's about four o'clock and we've had a really full day so far going to lunch in the dining room and then the penny action, which was a huge hit. I'm about to call a nurse who worked on the covid unit but is off today. And so I'm going to try her on her cell phone if she picks up.


Hello. Hi, is this Carol? Yes, it is. Hi, Carol, this is Carol. PSMA has been a good shepherd for almost four years.


What how hard has this past year been like? What have been the hardest part of this past year? Seeing that the fact that these folks have been separated from their families. Has been very difficult. I feel that a lot of them have declined just because of not being able to see their family. So, I mean, there's components to the human life beyond just the health care, the nursing home had been mostly spared early on in the pandemic, but it suffered a Colvert outbreak in November.


Carol took care of those patients.


I mean, we had one guy who passed and who I mean, he's the one that strikes me the most because he he was a very positive, upbeat kind of guy. And before the pandemic, he made a point of always getting around to every single unit, talking to everybody on the staff, the rather residents he was always excited about in the dining room, any activity that was occurring. You know, he he knew what was going on every single day because he had a lot of physical disabilities, but he had a very clear mind.


And I used to tell him he was my hero because in spite of what would appear to have been in terms of his physical disabilities, the kind of what you say in a raw deal, he was always so positive and so upbeat. I say you're the morale officer of the building when he would come by, you know, because I said you're always in such a good mood and always so happy and and he's the one who died.


Wow. That was very hard. And were you treating him? Yes. I mean, he was in the covert unit. So, yes, it sounds like you were close with them to everybody was.


And as the day goes on, I realize there's one person I still need to talk to, and that's Don Keusch, the administrator of the nursing home.


He's the one who gave the orders to shut down last year, and he's also the one who ultimately gave the OK to come out of lockdown. OK, I you wrote this down, so just some facts. And as we sit down, he pulls out a statement that he's typed up on a piece of paper. Do you want.


Do you want to just maybe read this for the audio and your own voice or read parts of it?


Tragically, we experienced a Corona coronavirus outbreak in November of twenty twenty, infecting 20 residents, resulting in five resident deaths. We are broken hearted by this loss of life, these individuals and their loved ones who are in our thoughts and prayers each day. This is a really it's been an emotional time this past year, and so tell me why. You know, when you were talking about what you've been through, you got a little choked up. Tell me tell me more about that.


Well, it's. Sarah, it's been the greatest challenge of our careers and not only speaking for myself, but for all of our staff wheeling us such a tight knit community, we know each other. A lot of us have grown up together, and we had the pleasure of taking care of individuals in the time in their lives other than childhood, possibly when they needed others the most. Trying to find the right words. I better start over. I'm sorry, but that's OK.


I'm really sorry. I as I was saying, our our staff has handled this with tremendous professionalism. They worked morning, noon and night volunteering, oftentimes had to work over and to to stay with the residents or sit with residents. I have tremendous respect, love and admiration for our staff.


And how long have you been the administrator here at the Shepherd?


This June, it will be 40 years.


And in those 40 years, have you ever experienced anything like this?


No. As I said, this has been the greatest challenge of a lifetime.


Are there days that stand out to you during the pandemic as being two days has stood out when we began to see what was happening throughout the state of West Virginia. I had made the decision on March 11th to close the facility to outside visitors. The other day that stands out to us was December 21st of last year of one of our residents received that the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. I, I, I felt for the first time and all of those months that we might have the chance of having the upper hand against this virus and that we might be able to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


I don't feel a tremendous sense of responsibility for these individuals and a tremendous sense of accountability to them and to their family members. So there's been a tremendous number of sleepless nights, a tremendous amount of praying to God for an answer. And I hope we're at that point right now. But I would say at the same time, I feel that I've had no more no less weight than any other staff member here. We're all in this together and we share equally the joy and the pain.


Yeah, but that makes sense, I guess, before you go, we did you did read the statement about the five people who died that I do think it's important to to talk a little bit about that and about what you can say about that, whether there's something specific about each of those people that you know or or just the the loss of and sort of acknowledging that, I will say that I knew each one of the first.


So I tried to know all of our residents personally and. I I just have a terrible sense of regret and apology to them and to their families. I feel as if as administrator of this facility that I let them down and that's something I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. I couldn't. Keep the virus from taking better lives. I won't be so much more happy, Sarah, when other family members are able to come in and see their loved ones again.


There's no substitute for a one on one visit and that love and affection that cannot come through an electronic device. Well, thank you so much for your time, Mr.. I really impressed on everyone here calls you Mr. Keusch. Yeah, that sounds good. We'll be here for Bunko later.


Did anyone did your parents did your parents explain Bunko to you?


You know, I think Zyda explained. Oh, about that. Yeah, she's something she said something about death and getting to 23 and. Around seven o'clock, I head to the final event of the day. A dice game called Bunko, who's in charge is in charge, Betty Lou and Zyda are there along with three others.


They're sitting around a table and they each have a small cup of cheese puffs in front of them. Betty Lou had brought her boxing winnings to share. Oh, I see what you're wondering.


I know you want back in Afghanistan as the day draws to a close, I think about what this time at Good Shepherd tells us about the return to normalcy after the pandemic.


There may have been an off switch at the beginning, but I realize there will be no on switch, no one instant when everything goes back to normal. But more and more, we may find moments of healing and togetherness, a shared coffee over lunch at Dice Game with friends.


And I am like Betty Lou. What did you think once? And Kenny actually my girlfriend. A busy day, for goodness sakes. How do you feel at the end of the day? I feel today. Tonight, right now. Right now. I feel very happy birthday. Well, it's nice meeting you. How are you? Will you ever come back this way? Yeah, I think they let my guard down and I got inside them are very nice.


Oh, but thanks for listening.


Thank you. It was such a pleasure. I love getting to know you. And I'm so glad you got to play that.


In a series of new guidelines for nursing homes released in recent weeks, the Biden administration recommended that guests should be allowed to visit the residence inside of them, regardless of whether they or the residents have been vaccinated. In explaining the change, federal health officials cited the millions of vaccines already administered to nursing home residents and staff, as well as the, quote, psychological, emotional and physical toll of keeping nursing home residents separated from their families.The Good Shepherd nursing home is now open to visitors. Right back. 3M is using science and innovation to help the world respond to covid-19 and taking action to support communities in the fight. Since the outbreak, 3M has responded with cash and product donations, including surgical masks, hand sanitizer and respirators through local and global aid partners. In addition, 3M plants are running around the clock, producing more than 95 million respirators per month in the U.S.. Learn how else 3M is helping the world respond to covid-19.


Go to 3M Dotcom Slash covid. 3M Science Applied to life. Here's what else you need to know today when I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick. It's sick. During his first formal news conference as president, Joe Biden denounced the growing attempts by Republican state legislators to restrict access to voting, calling it a disgraceful strategy that recalled the days of Jim Crow in the American South.


The Republican voters I know find this despicable Republican voter asked about the filibuster rule in the Senate, which requires 60 votes to pass legislation and threatens to block much of his agenda. Biden signaled that he was open to taking steps to limit or abolish it.


So it's being abused in a gigantic way. Finally, Biden said he would set a new goal for vaccinations, 200 million doses administered by his one 100th day in office in late April.


I know it's ambitious twice our original goal, but no other country in the world has even come close. Not even close to what we were doing. I believe we can do it. Today's episode was produced by Stella Tan and Rachel Quester with help from Alexandra Leo. It was edited by Anita Baggio and Lisa Chow and engineered by Brad Fisher. The deal is made by Feel Welcome, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lindsey Garrison, Annie Brown, Claire tennis editor Page Kowit, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dor, Chris Wood, Jessica Chang, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leha, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Mark George, Luke Vandersloot, Sindhu UNISOM and Dunn, MJ Davis, Lyn Austin Mitchell.


Nina Puttock. Dan Powell. Dave Shaw, Sidney Harper, Daniel Guimet, Hons Butoh. Robert Jimmerson, Mike Benowa. Bianca gave her Liz Oberlin as the author Vedi. Caitlin Roberts, Rochelle Banjar. Alix Spiegel, Leslie Davis, Diana Wynne, Marion Lozano, Soraya Shockley, Corey Schwebel and Anita Bojo. Our theme music is by Jim Grundberg and Ben Lansberg of Wonderly. Special thanks to Samdhong McCaleb Bouchard, Lauren Jackson, Julia Simon, Mahima Cervone, Nora Keller, Sophia Mallat does Iboga, Laura Kim, Erika Futterman and Srila Sinaer.


That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Barbaro. See you on Monday. Inspired by change designed to lead, Drexel University combines academic rigor with a transformative cooperative education program that allows students to explore a future career while working alongside the professionals and faculty experts tackling today's most complex issues before they graduate. Learn more at Drexel dot edu slash ambition. Can't wait.