Senior Living in the Time of COVID

November 2, 2020
Before the pandemic hit, Seattle often made national and international news for things such as grunge music, hot tech jobs, the hot housing market, and of course, the Space Needle. But, the last thing anybody wanted was to be ground zero for COVID-19 cases, starting massive shutdowns in the community hardest hit - Seniors.

In the U.S., seniors in residential settings like nursing homes and assisted living facilities account for about one percent of the population. However, according to a New York Times analysis, seniors account for 10% of total COVID cases and 40% of fatalities to date. What changes will the U.S. see in our senior living communities?    


Changes that occurred quite rapidly include the creation and implementation of preparedness plans related to personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, ventilation filters, and air exchange systems to reduce aerosols. There’s also been considerable interest in portable ventilation equipment to create negative pressure rooms, which better isolate contagious patients and help contaminated air from escaping. But what does COVID mean longer-term for the design of senior living facilities? 

How can design shape the future and help these facilities weather the storm of a pandemic? These professionals foresee smaller senior communities with more outdoor space, which was already a massive push. We asked our friends over at LRS Architects their views on these changes. Lisa Warnock, Director of Housing Interiors, states, “outdoor amenity spaces are going to become more important than ever and be a major part of programming. Right now, the trend we see in hospitality is people only feel safe gathering outside, so the design [for senior living] will need to respond accordingly.”


One housing concept, which has fared better through COVID-19 and was introduced two decades ago by geriatrician Bill Thomas, is the Green House model. Thomas envisioned a small home-like setting where residents see the same faces each day, living in communities of 10-12 people. Care workers are encouraged to associate and get to know the community members more as people, than patients. It’s predicted this type of model will be the basis for future developments.


Technology in all areas of our life has expanded rapidly. With regard to COVID and senior living, cameras became essential. They've been used to help residents communicate with their loved ones; and some communities even built small in-house production companies and green-screen production studios for virtual programming.

But on a more basic technological level, automation will more than likely lead the charge. Chuck Archer, an LRS Architect Associate, had this to say, “a lot more hands-free architectural items such as door openers/closers, sanitizers, and sink faucets, will be designed to better integrate into the communities; and the designs will be more attractive.”

COVID-19 sparked a sea-change within the already changing landscape of Senior Living. All vested parties look to do their part in fighting this pandemic to protect our loved ones. Charter is glad to work with such great thought-leaders and caring individuals as those at LRS Architects.