‘The first infection is sealed here’


They have no illusions in the Antwerp residential care centers: now that the virus is proliferating outside, there is a good chance that it will squeeze in again. But dramas don’t have to yield that. “The protective material is there, as is the test capacity.”

Fricassee with peas. In the courtyard of De Gulden Lelie residential care center in the Sint-Andries district in the heart of Antwerp, resident Julien talks with his table mates about the afternoon’s menu. Julien operated a restaurant for 42 years, but is not too critical of what was on the table. It’s a big kitchen, huh. Only the sequence of the meals was a little too fast. ” They do not feel here that Antwerp has fallen prey to a new corona wave – 567 infections in seven days: the Golden Lily is corona-free until further notice. Or rather: “We can no longer go outside.”

Nuance: residents can still request to go outside, but on their return they have to quarantine in their room for a week. “Seven days of punishment,” Julien sulks. It is part of the series of measures that neighborhood care manager Hans Cole must maintain in the residential care center with 110 rooms. The Golden Lily did not break during the first wave. There was no excess mortality in the first six months, which means that there were no more deaths than in other years. “But there was a spike in the deaths during the lockdown. Nine were corona related, four of which in one day. ”

There is good courage that De Gulden Lelie can also avert the worst this time. Anyone who enters gets involved in a battery of procedures. Visiting a resident? Only between two and five, by appointment, in the garden or in the cafeteria, not in the room, maximum half an hour. The door opens only after a call. Mandatory registration and hand gel are waiting at the entrance. Anyone moving through the corridors must wear a mask. Only the required plexiglass in the cafeteria is still missing. Sufficient protective material is available for our own staff. “Even during the first wave, the Antwerp Healthcare Company had enough in reserve, but that material still had to be redistributed among the centers,” says Cole. That is better now.

We will immediately test if there is a suspicion of contamination. That was not the first time.

Hans Cole

Neighborhood care manager

The test strategy is also of a completely different order than during the first wave. ‘We will immediately test if there is a suspicion of contamination. That was not the first time. We monitor whether there is a fever, cough or short breath. We then test. The results come quickly. Saturday we had a suspicion here, after a visitor’s husband turned out positive. We had the results on Sunday. ‘ Negative, happy. In another center that Cole has under its wing, Bilzenhof, the result of a resident on Friday evening was positive. ‘With one contamination, the center closes tight, we test and there is increased alertness. Almost the entire staff came in for tests over the weekend. ”

The image of De Gulden Lelie suggests that residential care centers are facing the second wave in a different reality. Miracles have not happened in the meantime, progress on the left and right certainly has. A vehicle that did not exist in March is the Flemish Taskforce Care. He adjusted the guidelines last Thursday: giving hands, kissing and cuddling within the bubble are now out of the question. But above all: the task force recommended residential care centers, together with their local authorities, to consider additional measures in the event of an increase in local infections. The Healthcare Company did that. On Thursday evening, it introduced a seven-day quarantine for residents who leave the retirement home, and became stricter than the Flemish line.

The party has already split into three: yesterday afternoon for friends, evening for family and next week for the residents of the service flats.

But the challenges sometimes lie not in structures or procedures, but in everyday reality. Keeping your distance is not obvious for people who no longer have a perfectly clear mind. “We have noticed that keeping the distance remains the difficult point,” says Dirk, a nurse at De Gulden Lelie. “You only get that by repeating it a lot and because people are herd animals.” But by no means every sheep wants to stay in the herd. ‘There are certainly residents who say: I don’t care if I get corona. But it is up to us to explain to them that the rules are there to protect others too, “says Cole.

The residents struggle with another fear: that of a new lockdown. “It is deep down that they may no longer see their family,” says Dirk. They share the fear of insulation or smaller bubbles with the residents of the De Meere service flats in Berchem. It’s ice cream afternoon when news of the National Security Council blows in: bubbles of five. Heavy, especially for Jeanne, who turned 100 yesterday. “The party has already split into three: yesterday afternoon for friends, evening for family and next week for the residents of the service flats.” Whether that can continue, like other activities, is uncertain for coordinator Piet Heylen. “It’s bad,” says an inhabitant. “It is no different,” he replies.

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