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A look inside senior living during the coronavirus pandemic

Using pictures and video chat, we’re taking you inside a local assisted living and memory care community to show you what it’s been like for them the past few weeks.

BROOKHAVEN, Ga. — At least 47 long-term care communities have dealt with an outbreak of COVID-19 in Georgia.

The Department of Public Health releases numbers every Friday.

The people working inside these communities are the definition of essential workers. It’s a tough job on a normal day, but a pandemic only makes it harder.

“Everyone is getting restless. The residents want to get out and families want to come in,” said Ginger King, the community relations director for Orchard at Brookhaven.

RELATED: National Guard troops clean Brookhaven senior living facility

More than 80 people live at Orchard at Brookhaven, that number split between assisted living and memory care.

“Every day we take their temperatures and check on them,” King said.

This is one of the communities that dealt with an outbreak of COVID-19.

“It was scary because it happened early on,” King said.

Luckily, that resident recovered at the hospital and after testing negative twice, is back in her apartment with no outbreaks since.

The community has been strict to keep it that way.

“There were some moments where I was like, 'I don’t know what’s going on,' but we just got to keep going with it,” supervisor Teresa Bowens said. “I’m trying not to let my fear show for the staff because I want them to stay calm and realize that everything is going to be OK, and I don’t want to show fear because I want the residents to know that everything is going to be OK.”

At one point, the community locked down completely, and the staff slept on site.

“We slept over. It kind of reminded me of a couple of years ago when we had the snowstorms. You brought clothing for a couple of days, and we slept in shifts,” Bowens said.

They set up mattresses in the downstairs theater and dressed each pillow with a chocolate kiss.

Last week the National Guard came in at night to help clean.

“We decided to do it at night so it wouldn’t disrupt the residents’ day. Most of them were asleep. They cleaned all the common areas. Looks like they did use a fogger and some spray and were wiping down all surfaces as well,” King said.

Credit: Orchard at Brookhaven

When caring for those living with dementia, there are also other challenges, like mealtimes. Not everyone can safely eat in his or her own apartment in isolation.

For those who need assistance, social distancing is maintained. Blue painter’s tape on the floor helps staff keep people at least 6 feet apart.

“They will sit not only in the taped off areas that are just for them, but we have their name on the chair and the table so even when they do come out, they’re coming to the same spot each time,” King said.

They use the same method for social group activities to keep people engaged.

A trickier challenge to overcome is communication.

“Now we are wearing surgical masks, it’s hard for them to hear and understand what we are saying because they count on looking at our face and our mouth and our expressions,” King said.

To soften the blow, she’s sewing fabric masks, which are more comfortable for the staff and more colorful to look at. She’s also testing out a design with a clear insert so the residents will be able to see their mouths.

“The staff love it because they get to pick what sports team they want or what colors or patterns, so it’s a morale boost for staff, and it’s a talking point for the residents,” King said.

Since they can’t bring in outside vendors for activities and music, the community has started their own staff band called The Rotten Apples. King even picks up her guitar to play and sing.

“We are used to a lot of musicians, so we are having to just pull together team members and learn who has what talents,” King said.

Visitation restrictions have been in place for about a month. Since families can’t come in, they’re showing extra love to the people inside.

“We have to be the extra support the family was to them, so we have to go in and show extra care,” Bowens said.

“It’s like all of us have a thousand grandparents now that we are loving on,” King said. “We do the best we can. We stay smiling. We stay upbeat for them because we’re not going to let this beat us.”

Bowens says thanks to the extra time the caregivers are spending with the residents, their relationships have gotten stronger. She urges everyone to follow the stay-at-home guidelines, so families can visit again soon.

“I would say please take this seriously. Please stay at home. For people like myself that have the type of job I do in healthcare. I can’t stay home. I have people depending on me. I have to be here, but for those of you that don’t have to be out, please stay home stay safe so that we can get this under control and we can get back to being able to visit,” Bowens said.

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