SAN SALVADOR – Protected from head to toe, Maria Hernandez placed her hands into sleeves to hug her aunt Arcelia Aguilar through a plastic curtain at an elderly care home in San Salvador.
They have not been able to see each other in the last five months due to restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Maria and Arcelia, 87, were chosen to participate in a test of the “cuddle curtain” which has been installed at the elderly nursing home Jardin de los Abuelitos in San Salvador.
The aim is to help bring together elders at the nursing home and their families after not seeing each other for months.
“I was very happy because [Arcelia] is very motivated and seeing the joy she feels when she sees me is beautiful. Although there are barriers between us, we can still give each other a hug,” Maria told EFE.
She said her family was “sad” because they were “unable to pay her (aunt) a visit for five months. But with this equipment” they will be able to “come and hug her.”
The elderly are the most vulnerable population to COVID-19, therefore health security has to be stricter and must be followed down to the minute detail, explained Dr. Luis Bermudez, in charge of ensuring the health of the 15 living at the residence.
Out of the 26,308 cases of the novel coronavirus registered in El Salvador, 3,268 of them are people between the ages of 60 and 79, and 662 are people older than 80 years.
Bermudez told EFE that he researched plastic curtain prototypes created in different Latin American countries and it was his colleagues in Brazil who helped him refine the idea of creating his own cuddle curtain.
He explained that the plastic curtain was installed in the residence’s garden and will be disposable when it is put into practice.
“After it is used, it will be disinfected and disassembled. Then another one will be installed for another person,” he added.
Each person must wear protective gear, including a cap, mask, face shield, gown and gloves, to be able to hug their relative and the resident will be need to wear a cap, a mask and sleeves, because “although plastic is hard and resistant, we don’t want to have any risk,” he said.
Just like others in the country, at Jardin de los Abuelitos elderly care home, restrictive measures have been imposed since mid-March to avoid contagion of the coronavirus.
In addition, during the course of the pandemic, digital means, such as mobile phones or tablets, have been used so that residents can keep in touch with their families.
The doctor pointed out that the plastic curtain “has a limitation because it is designed for residents who can stand and walk, but here we also have people in wheelchairs and those who are bedridden, whom, logically, this method does not favor.”
Faced with this situation, Bermudez said he is already working on an idea for an acrylic cabin with wheels for easy mobilization.
“The emotional burden that (the residents) suffered due to the limitation of the visits was great and I believe that these new methods serve as an opportunity to re-establish contact between patients and their family, and that will have an effect on their health,” he added.