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Opinion Columns

Opinion: If you’re 50 or older during the coronavirus, you’re apparently on your own

To be younger in Colorado now is indeed to be free, as the state opens up from its COVID-19 lockdown. Not only do the young get to go out, but the people over a certain age are officially admonished to stay out of their way. 

Colorado is working hard to get children safely back into circulation. As they should.

The state is working hard to shore up the economy and pay unemployment. As it should.

Diana McFail

Corrections officials and legal advocates are standing up for prisoners who might get sick. As they should.

On the website of the largest school district in Colorado, there are 33 frequently asked questions with detailed answers on how to support kids up to 18 during the crisis. With free computers and lunch for all. As it should be. 

But the pandemic message from authorities to Coloradans over 50? “Shut yourself inside. And good luck with that.” 

When the governor warned late last week that older Coloradans should continue to avoid public contact, even as restrictions on everything from hotels to restaurants to summer camps were lifted, we were looking for the “and. . . “

And Colorado will make sure older residents keep connections to family and friends.

And Colorado will guarantee they have technology and technology skills, along with affordable data plans, to keep the love and the services and work they need.

And there will be a way for older residents to get groceries. Fill prescriptions. See a doctor through telehealth. Register for unemployment. Talk to the grandkids. Figure out if their nursing home is in financial trouble from the pandemic. 

There was no “and.” Apparently when you hit 50 in Colorado, you’re on your own. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Perhaps the state’s priorities become more clear if we say it this way: As the pandemic took over our state, Child Protective Services was deemed an essential function. 

Adult Protective Services was not. 

It’s certainly true that COVID-19 has hit hardest among people over 50, and that risk rises greatly in each decade of life after that. So we appreciate the sincere attempts to protect the most susceptible, knowing that a great majority of the state’s horrific death toll has occurred in skilled nursing and other facilities where older Coloradans live. 

But we can’t help but notice the views — sometimes implied, often overt — that see Coloradans over 50 or 60 as getting in the way of a rush to normalcy.

If “old people” would just stay home, the thinking goes, the rest of us could get on with it. As if people over 50 weren’t a huge part of the workforce, or don’t have families to care for, or aren’t leading vital, expansive and fulfilled lives that enrich themselves and others. 

There are 1.5 million Coloradans over 50. There are about 16,000 nursing home residents in Colorado. And while they deserve far more protection than they’ve had up to now, that still leaves an enormous number of older Coloradans sheltering at home and vulnerable to illness, isolation, fraud and discrimination.

The immediate future of more than 20% of the population will be decided by the behavior of the other 80%. You’ve got the freedom to circulate and congregate. Consider your friends and loved ones who fall within the 20% demographic and use your freedom wisely, or many of our fellow citizens will be stuck at home indefinitely. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

We’ve been allying with Colorado partners to help create the kinds of contacts and services older residents will need in coming months to weather this pandemic successfully. 

We’ve supported organizations placing Amazon Echo devices in low-income homes, where residents can use easy voice controls to connect to information, services and each other.

Other allies get older residents connected to technology that allows them to continue work, maintain family connections and entertainment. Or virtual Adult Day Activity volunteers bring groceries, activity bags and tablet devices to older residents who before the virus hit were spending time at activity centers and doing their own errands. 

If we’re telling our families and neighbors to stay at home, it’s on us to reach out with the human touch Coloradans have always shown in challenging times. It’s also on us to keep to the rules we know will get rid of coronavirus as quickly as possible. 

We’ve had enough isolation and division to last decades. Let’s join together to bring people over 50 the kind of attention and services everyone else can now get for themselves. 


Diana McFail is president and CEO of NextFifty Initiative.


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