- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2020

REXBURG, Idaho (AP) - Administrators at nursing homes and assisted living centers in Idaho have started pen pal programs for their residents to safely interact with others during the coronavirus pandemic.

Madison Carriage Cove Activities Director Emily Spencer collected the names of residents who were interested and put out a Facebook call asking people to write them, the Post Register reported.

Spencer said five residents had signed up for the program in late August, including 63-year-old Loretta Byington, who moved into the nursing home last summer after a bout of falls that left her in the hospital for a prolonged period of time.

Byington said she has not been able to see all of her adult children because of safety restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19, even though they live near the eastern Idaho facility, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Idaho Falls.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

“It’s very hard mentally to be in our room, all the time, 23 hours a day,” she said, adding that the letters from her seven pen pals have helped and made her hopeful.

Ombudsman Tera Fellows, who spends her days talking to people, has said the program has spread across the region and she has started her own as well. Fellows is paid by the state to investigate complaints from patients or residents in long-term care facilities in eastern Idaho.

Four of the 36 long-term care facilities across nine eastern Idaho counties that Fellows works in are involved in the pen pal program.

“It’s still in the early stages,” Fellows said. “I can’t wait one day to be visiting the patients and ask them face to face if they’re still getting letters.”

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