Julie Muhlstein’s parents, Jeanne Ahrens, 98, and Richard Ahrens, 97, earlier this year — before the coronavirus halted visits to a Spokane care facility. (Family photo)

Julie Muhlstein’s parents, Jeanne Ahrens, 98, and Richard Ahrens, 97, earlier this year — before the coronavirus halted visits to a Spokane care facility. (Family photo)

The virus hits close to home — my mom’s Spokane care center

Vacation was fine despite social distancing and masks, but the image of her alone is hard to bear.

It was January when we learned of a man who’d been diagnosed with the new coronavirus being cared for at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. I was in Spokane, staying with my dad. He and I talked about how, in the entire country, the first such patient in a U.S. hospital was a block from my house.

Now, I’m back from another visit with Dad, plus a week at north Idaho’s Priest Lake.

Yes, we went on vacation — a mask-wearing, social-distancing getaway. My husband and I stayed in a cabin at the lake. My daughter’s family came from Seattle to pitch their tent in a nearby campground. During outdoor dinners together, my grandsons and their parents ate at a picnic table while we sat a good distance away on the cabin’s deck.

We had a splendid week, but were careful. We never went to a restaurant. Even on trails and beach walks, we wore masks.

At 97, my dad still lives in his house, where this summer I heard new stories about his Army duty during World War II and his childhood in the tiny town of Reardan. My mother, quite frail at 98, has been in a Spokane care facility since fracturing her pelvis two years ago. Until the pandemic, she was cheered by seeing my dad daily.

In a 2018 Mother’s Day column, I wrote of my poignant visits to Mom’s home away from home — where her room in a skilled nursing area has “an airy view and a window seat.” My dear little mom has been a lifelong gardener who still loves being outside in fresh air. I had hoped to see her after our cabin week, if only through a window.

I haven’t seen her in person since February, and don’t know when that opportunity might come again. Now comes news our family has feared and dreaded for months.

Her retirement community, which until this month had reported no COVID-19 cases, said in a statement on its website Sunday that seven residents and five staff members had tested positive for the virus. One person with significant underlying conditions, who also had the virus, died July 31. Testing was conducted July 29. Sunday’s notice said timing of future tests will be determined with help from the Spokane Regional Health Department.

My mother was not among those testing positive for the virus. She remains in her room, with all her meals delivered and no group dining or activities. The health of residents is being closely monitored. For now, there are no visits from my father, my sister or brother.

So we worry. We pray. And we empathize with all families touched by COVID-19.

During our stay in Idaho, we needed to stop at a store — a national retailer where masks are required for all customers and workers.

While leaving, I watched as a store employee at the entryway stopped a family that was about to enter. A couple with a young child was about to walk in without masks. The worker, reminding them of the requirement, was friendly and polite as she offered free paper masks from a supply on the table at the entrance.

With obvious anger, the man said they’d shop elsewhere. They turned and headed back out to the parking lot — back into a community where they’ll surely encounter other people, perhaps their own vulnerable loved ones or health professionals who work with the elderly.

We’ve all read and seen the news — tons of coronavirus data, incredibly sad stories of people lost to this disease, heated bickering over masks, virus-related benefits or what to do about the coming school year. We’ve seen reports of big groups, partiers throwing caution to the wind.

Wouldn’t we all love to be done with it, the masks and shut-downs, this utterly changed world that requires so much sacrifice?

But please, please, please, think of others.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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