FAIRMONT — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, science has shown that the elderly are more susceptible to the coronavirus than other age groups.
That raises multiple concerns for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren who may be asymptomatic and transmit the disease to others. A local program is helping grandparents through the pandemic to understand they can lower the risk of transmission through open, honest communication.
"The burden of COVID is clearly in the adult world," said Kathryn Moffett, a doctor specializing in pediatrics and infectious diseases at WVU Medicine. "They want their grandchild to be healthy, and they also understand that they themselves don't want to get ill. So I think it's teaching teenagers and young adults what their responsibilities are."
Speaking to a group of "Grandfamilies" via web conference last month, Moffett explained ways families can stay safe amid the pandemic through the The Healthy Grandfamilies program, which is carried out by the Family Service of Marion and Harrison Counties. Healthy Grandfamilies offers free help and counseling to grandparents who end up raising their grandchildren without having planned to do so.
"We knew that they were going to be that population that was going to be hit the hardest," said Candace Golaszewski, a social worker with the Family Service. "We didn't want them to feel like they were severely alone and isolated."
Normally held in-person, the Healthy Grandfamilies program had to be moved to an online format when coronavirus led to the stay-home order and families were forced to isolate from others. Golaszewski said the group of grandparents didn't have too hard a time transitioning, and they are still able to speak and get counseling over the phone or internet.
"We kind of started easing them into doing support meetings," Golaszewski said. "We started doing support group meetings and trying to do those virtually because Family Service does counseling as well."
Golaszewski provides grandparents with information and resources they may need to navigate a world different than the one they raised their own children in. Aside from Moffett, Golaszewski also gave the grandparents information from Pamela Woodman-Kaehler, a foster care administrator with the Inspector General, and Marion County attorney Tim Manchin, who provided grandparents with information about adoption.
"We have been just trying to keep with the program and provide the service," Golaszewski said. "We know it's still extremely needed for them, even through the pandemic."
Moffett said she helped these "grandparent parents" find ways to stay safe from potentially contracting COVID-19, whether it be keeping their kids within the same social group at all times, or self-isolating at home if someone may be carrying the virus.
"We discussed a lot about trying to self-isolate in your own home," Moffett said. "That's a little harder, but if somebody develops a fever, trying to keep a vulnerable person in another part of the house, perhaps if you have room."
Golaszewski said that aside from keeping them physically healthy, one aim of Healthy Grandfamilies is to keep the grandparents mentally healthy as well. Despite being unable to see program participants over the course of several months, Golaszewski said she is always one phone call away.
"We have still been trying to keep our distance as much as we can with them," Golaszewski said. "I talk to them on a daily basis over the phone and things like that."
The change to a remote format also led the Family Service to look for grant funding to help its grandparents upgrade their technology. Golaszewski said the group got two $1,000 grants, which will be used to supply participating families with laptops.
"I was making some calls to grandfamilies from Marion and Taylor County to try to find out how they were doing submitting the school work," Golaszewski said. "I went to our committee and actually asked for some suggestions and we ended up getting a donation of $1,000 per county towards laptops for the families."
Moffett said she told the grandparents in the seminar that COVID-19 is not going anywhere in the immediate future, and that they should be patient in getting back to going out and about until there is a vaccine. However, she said she hopes they can find ways to continue communicating together, because their mental health is an important aspect of life as well.
"We've got to figure out how we can be out there," Moffett said. "How we can manage our living with the social distancing, the masks and some restriction on social gatherings for now. We've got to be patient and figure it out."