We hope that all of you are safe and well and making the best of these difficult times.
We’re still in the stay-at-home mode at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Colorado Governor Jared Polis’s slight lifting of restrictions to the “safer-at-home” level notwithstanding, Arapahoe County, like Denver and other metro counties, did not lift the stay-at-home restrictions on Monday, April 27. The order in Arapahoe County will remain in place until at least May 8.
That’s because County officials and the Tri-county Health Dept. agree. We need a little longer yet before slowly opening up again. Arapahoe County, which includes the city of Littleton and the Colorado Center for the Blind have the second largest number of positive tests in the state (2706) and the second largest number of deaths (156) attributed to COVID-19 as of May 3. Only Denver has more.
So, no hair or nail appointments yet. But that also means that we’ll continue as we have. Our daily philosophy class, our morning check in with students and staff at the apartments, as well as weekly meetings with travel, Tech, Braille and Home Management. Last Monday, Travel instructors did a class using the Denver Street guide. Every Friday, Home Management & Home Maintenance hold a class for all students, followed by a cooking project with students at our apartments. One project had them all making barbecue chicken. And then on Mondays, there’s Cultivating Daily Health with Maureen and Anna.
We are extremely grateful to all the outstanding guests we’ve had at our daily Philosophy Class, including National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono, our NFB of Colorado President Scott LaBarre, a blind race car driver, a blind BBC journalist, and a Beep Baseball Hall of Famer, and many more. Thank you all. Your contributions to our staff and students in this difficult time have greatly enriched our lives as blind people!
Meanwhile, we hold two staff meetings per week, and weekly departmental meetings focus on reviewing and revising their respective curricula. Our Youth Program’s FAST (Fun Activities and Skills Training) holds a call for youth every other Friday night (May 8 will focus on accessible apps). Even our Seniors are meeting on the Zoom platform twice a week, along with regular calls by Senior Services staff to individuals every day.
This is a busy schedule, to be sure. In fact, our Zoom calendar is crammed full! but it’s not the same as having our students at the center and seeing them every day. The easing of stay-at-home restrictions, when it comes to us in Littleton, will likely be slow, not to mention the additional concerns around airline travel to bring our students back. Even if restrictions are eased in Arapahoe County after May 8, we still may be restricted to gatherings of less than ten people for at least a few more weeks, pushing the return of staff and students to something like a normal schedule out even further.
But we’re teaching, learning and growing even in the face of these strange, extreme conditions. One thing’s for sure, we’ve all learned a lot about managing and participating in online meetings. And Director Julie Deden and the Management Team are working to stay on top of the restrictions, the changes and consulting with the Tricounty Health Department to be sure we know when and how we can slowly return to normalcy.
The next steps will be slow, cautious ones. But our mission is to teach the successful, nonvisual skills of blindness that we’ve taught for more than three decades. And we are anxious to get back to it!
March 30, 2020
Hunkered Down and Hanging In
News of the rapid spread of the coronavirus comes at us hourly, it seems, and our lives have certainly been disrupted in ways we could never have imagined. In Colorado, we’ve been under a “Stay at Home” order for five days now, and we’re all doing our best to stay busy, safe and positive.
At the Colorado Center for the Blind, we had already taken a number of steps to both protect our staff and students and to do our part to help limit the spread of the virus.
- We began calling our seniors the week of March 16 and talking individually with them, rather than holding group meetings as we typically do. Obviously, the nearly 200 Older Individuals with Blindness (as federal law refers to them, typically age 50 and up) we serve each month in an 8-county area are, by definition, in the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19. Our Senior Services staff have since worked out a way to conduct small group meetings by simple telephone calls.
- we sent most of our ITP students home on March 21 because it had become obvious that this was going to last more than just a few weeks. This was a painful farewell, to say the least. Certainly, we didn’t want to send our students away, even if only for a few months and for their own safety and comfort. But also, our students struggled with the idea that their training programs were being interrupted, and no way of knowing for how long. All but seven packed up and got on a plane or bus. Those seven remain at our apartments in Littleton, but obviously subject (like all of us) to the “Stay at Home” order.
- We hold Zoom check-in calls for our students at the apartments every weekday morning at 8:15 a.m. This call includes Vicki and her husband Mark, as well as our intern Holly. This way we can see how everyone is doing, talk about activities for the day, problem-solve issues that may arise, etc.
- Our students at the apartments (and our staff and students who have returned to their homes elsewhere) are encouraged to get outside in this increasingly lovely spring weather, get some exercise, and to socialize with each other from the prescribed 6 feet distance.
- We hold our philosophy Class every day at 11:30 a.m. for all of our current ITP students (wherever they are) and our staff, just as we do normally. It’s often a noisy, joyous call until Martin gets the order to mute all. We’ve had a number of extraordinary guests in our first week, and have others scheduled in upcoming weeks to talk about their lives as blind people and how the philosophy of the National Federation of the blind (NFB) has had a positive impact on them. It is the philosophy of the NFB that serves as the foundation of what and how we teach blindness skills at the Colorado Center for the Blind. We hope to begin posting the audio from these sessions soon.
A shout-out here to Mark and Holly, who’ve been holding down the fort at our apartments for the past couple of weeks. Vicki returned to the McGeorge Mountain Terrace on Friday after more than two weeks’ absence. She had hip surgery on March 11 and was then transferred to a rehab facility for physical therapy and recovery.
Shout-out to Vicki! She got home on Friday, and everyone is delighted about her recovery and glad to have her back! We expect to see her skipping about on the apartment grounds very soon!
Shout-outs to Carol, Ramona and Peggy, our staff members who also drive. mail deliveries from the center, shopping trips, trips to the airport and more, beyond their normal duties!
And in the same category, why not mention volunteers like Julie H. and Greg for helping with similar support!
March 21, 2020
Center Sends ITP Students Home for the Duration of the COVID-19 Crisis
The Colorado Center for the Blind Thursday made the painful decision to send our students home until the COVID-19 crisis eases. Though we had just implemented a remote-learning strategy with our Independence Training Program (ITP) students on Tuesday that we felt would be viable for a couple of weeks, by Thursday it was quite clear that two weeks of voluntary quarantine wouldn’t be nearly enough time. , On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis asked bars and restaurants to stop serving except for pick up orders, Colorado universities asked students to go home, and K12 schools began turning extended spring breaks into completely online learning through the end of the school year. we could see that we needed to get our students home while they could still get there. So today (Saturday), the last of our students are flying home.
“It will be my happiest day when I know you will all be on your way back to Colorado,” Executive Director Julie wrote students in an e-mail this morning.
In another e-mail yesterday, she informed the Center’s Board of Directors:
I am saddened to say that we made the decision to send almost all of our students home at this time. After further developments in regards to the virus, it became apparent that the soonest we could even think about opening would be mid April. We felt that it would not be best for our students if we kept them all here. We felt that they needed to be close to their families and other loved ones. So tomorrow (Saturday) everyone but six students will be leaving. We purchased their tickets, have staff and volunteers taking them to the airport and are providing all of the support that we can. We have also contacted their rehabilitation counselors so that they are aware of what we are doing.
The six students who remain in our apartments have staff members and our intern on site as well. Those students were unable to return home for compelling individual reasons. For one recently arrived student, he’d rented his house, so he couldn’t go back there at this time.
While we won’t be carrying out a full day’s training schedule as we had planned for our remote learning strategy, instructors will continue to contact students to provide support during the upcoming weeks, and to help them maintain their connection to the Center and their training goals. We will also continue our daily Philosophy Class at 11:30 each weekday via the Zoom conferencing app, featuring leaders in the National Federation of the Blind from Colorado and across the country. Staff will address a number of larger projects in their respective departments, and hold staff conference calls at least twice weekly.
“I could not direct the center effectively if it were not for each and every person that we have on staff,” Julie wrote to staff this morning. “Everyone cares so much and has passion for what we do to make a difference for our students. Even more, I love working with everyone as you are all our CCB family. I feel so sad that we will not all be seeing each other every day. I know how fortunate we all are to work together and to help create success for our students and also for each other too.”
March 17, 2020
Colorado Center for the Blind Temporarily Shifts to Online Learning
As of Monday, March 16, we are changing our standard operational mode at the Colorado Center for the Blind until at least March 30, at which time we will reassess the rapidly-changing public health situation in Colorado. Our main facility at 2233 W. Shepperd Ave. will host no classes, but a skeleton crew will be on hand to handle phone calls, receive mail and other shipments and continue general administrative duties.
Students will remain at our apartment complex on S. Lowell Blvd. They and their instructors will essentially maintain their regular schedule, but will communicate by telephone in order to give assignments and receive instruction. At 11:30 each week day, we will hold our daily Philosophy class via Zoom conference call.
It was just five days ago that we issued a statement on COVID-19 that indicated we would remain open and teaching. However, things in the United States and in Colorado, in particular, are evolving almost hourly. While no student or staff member has been identified as having COVID-19, the management team determined that the most responsible choice for our staff and students, and the most socially responsible approach, would be to limit travel for our staff and students, and to reduce the number of people in our building (including general meetings at announcements and Philosophy class). Consultations with individual board members occurred over the weekend, and the CCB’s full Board of Directors met on Monday evening via conference call to discuss the plan to move forward with remote learning. The entire board agreed that this was the best step to make at this time. Nonetheless, we will continue teaching and providing structure for our students.
Even as we informed students on Monday and began to map out our teaching strategy in our weekly staff meeting, The CDC, White House and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis were adjusting the limitation on group meetings downward to no more than ten. We can meet that recommendation with this alteration in our teaching structure.
All groups are cancelled at the Center for the near future, as are home visits. Our staff conduct a number of groups at outside locations in an eight-county area, such as senior-living facilities, all of which were cancelled by the facilities themselves by the end of last week. Senior Services staff have been busy since Monday calling every senior active on the caseload to check in, help problem-solve and to identify resources or make referrals. We hope to provide support as we move to a status of increasing isolation for individuals, and so there are a lot of these phone calls to make!
All Youth programs are on hold for the time being. We are still planning on our summer programs beginning in June, however!
Other Steps Taken
- Students were given the option to remain and “shelter in place” in Colorado, or to return to their homes elsewhere. Three chose to leave.
- Beginning last Friday Colorado experienced a panic-induced run on supermarkets. This left some stores too overwhelmed to provide reasonable accommodations to blind shoppers in the form of shopping assistants, not to mention bare shelves. This morning, several of our staff who drive visited supermarkets in the wider south metro area which have been able to restock somewhat, and purchased some basic groceries, such as milk, bread, lunch meat, oatmeal, bananas, and healthy snacks. These were then packaged at our apartments by staff and students and a bag was distributed to each apartment.
- Staff will keep the building at 2233 W. Shepperd Ave. open to receive mail and packages, as all student mail comes here. This includes necessary student prescriptions that come through the mail for many of our students. We’ll deliver mail and any packages near the end of the workday.
- Students will be encouraged to travel outdoors, but to avoid public transportation or ride-shares except for essential travel, such as to the supermarket, medical appointments, etc.
The well-being and safety of our students is our highest concern. If a student has any signs of the virus we will isolate them immediately in a vacant apartment. We will assist the student to obtain testing and if it happens to be positive, we will ensure that the student has what they need in terms of medical treatment or provisions during recovery.
We appreciate all the concern and support for our students and our center. We will continue to provide updates as we move forward.
March 12, 2020
COVID-19 Response, Precautions and Planning
The Colorado Center for the Blind is committed to insuring the health and safety of all students, staff and visitors. So, we daily review recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state and local health officials to ensure that we are following the latest recommendations for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. We discuss these recommendations and how to implement them every day with staff and students at our morning announcements. These precautions include
- Washing hands often and thoroughly
- Use of hand sanitizer, placed strategically in the building
- Wiping down surfaces and cleaning frequently
- Staying home when sick
- Avoiding shaking hands , embracing and generally maintaining appropriate personal distances
- Covering mouths when sneezing or coughing.
We are currently accepting new referrals and new students continue to arrive. We are a small agency and have 25 to 30 students at a time. As we are small in numbers and thus the risk factors are low, we plan to continue classes as usual, while continuing to monitor risk factors in relation to local conditions.
At this time, no staff or student has been identified or suspected of having COVID-19. In accordance with CDC, state and local health agency recommendations, however, we will implement the following in the event that one or more of our staff or students is suspected of or tests positive for COVID-19, in addition to isolating the individual or individuals with COVID-19:
1. If one individual is identified as having COVID-19, we will close our center for 72 hours and conduct a deep cleaning.
2. If two or more individuals are identified as having COVID-19, we will close the center for two weeks, as well as conducting a deep cleaning.
3. We will maintain close communication with our local health officials throughout.
(Note: The above recommendations are taken from CDC online documents.)
In the event that classes at the center’s main facility are canceled, we will make provisions to continue daily teaching and learning via individual telephone calls and larger zoom workshops with students. We will also insure that our students have everything they need at their apartments and work closely with them to ensure their well-being.
Feel free to contact me if you should have any further questions. My phone number is: 303-778-1130 and my email address is email@example.com