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Cedar Valley residents with disabilities facing unique virus risks

Cedar Valley residents with disabilities facing unique virus risks

From the Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa series

WATERLOO – Tucker Cassidy is strict in his practice of social distancing. He can only hope the people who show up multiple times a day to help him with personal care are doing the same.

“It’s a constant worry of whether or not you’ll catch something from someone, or if they’re practicing social distancing. You never know, and you can’t expect to quiz them on every place they’ve been,” he said.

As the number of COVID-19 cases skyrockets and the death toll mounts, Cassidy and others who rely on in-home health care workers for help with activities of daily living grow increasingly anxious about becoming infected.

Cassidy, 44, works from home in affiliate marketing and is an advocate and activist for those with disabilities. He has been a quadriplegic since a firearm accident in 1994. Though he lives independently, a rotation of aides are in and out of his home every day.

“At least four people come and go each day. Basically I need help with most things,” he said. “I need help getting into the (wheelchair), toileting, showering, eating, getting dressed. At night I need help getting into bed.”

As of Monday, all but six states had full or partial shelter-in-place orders. Iowa is one of those six with no such mandate. The others are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada and Arkansas.

To protect her compromised immune system, Laura Adams has implemented her own household lockdown.

“We’re not letting anybody else in besides my husband and daughter,” she said. “We get deliveries left outside the doors so we can sanitize them before they come in.”

Adams and her husband, Darin, also pulled their 4-year-old from day care.

“Day care is a germ factory, and the risk of exposure is just too high for me,” she said.

Adams uses a walker, and sometimes a wheelchair, after a series of complications during and after her pregnancy left her fighting for her life.

“I do have difficulty walking, and I still have pretty severe chronic pain, depending on the day,” she said.

Those difficulties and others make Adams vulnerable to infection, especially one as insidious as COVID-19. In early March, her doctor told her to avoid all public spaces.

“We’re trying to keep the bubble as small as possible,” she said.

That exacts another toll: feeling isolated.

“One of my main issues right now is the increase in anxiety. I’ve gotten used to being at home over the last four years. But I would still leave the house for doctor appointments and physical therapy and grocery shopping. I definitely feel for the other people who are experiencing social isolation for the first time,” Adams said.

Cassidy said he’s been calling friends on the phone a lot more lately to maintain connections. “I didn’t really feel isolated until like this last week when I started thinking about that I’ve got all these friends who aren’t working right now and it would be great to hang out with them.”

Social connections are especially important for those with disabilities, said local advocate Eric Donat, who has been in self-imposed isolation for nearly three weeks to minimize exposure to the virus. Donat, 39, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

He’s using social media to stay in touch with friends, but said not everyone with a disability has that option.

“I know there is modern technology like social media, but some people with disabilities might not have access or know how to use video calls or other platforms,” he said.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is “throwing the whole world off kilter, changing schedules” and otherwise upending daily routines that are crucial to people with certain kinds of disabilities, Donat said. “We’re all kind of in this limbo, and people with disabilities might have more issues with being scared and not knowing how to get that off their chest or reach out.”

But sheltering in place is the right thing to do — for everyone, said Donat, Adams and Cassidy. Adams is blunt in her request of Cedar Valley residents.

“Seriously. Stay home. Stop spreading this. You are putting me and people like me at a much increased risk. We are not expendable.”

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