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Covid-19 Increases Digital Divide for Seniors; by Richard Adler and Susan Nash

August 17th, 2020

COVID-19’s forced closure of schools quickly led to a recognition that students without internet access are not able to keep up; school districts and local governments acted to help them. But what about the problem at the other end of the age spectrum?

Sheltering in place is tough on everyone, but imagine doing it as a 75-year-old who lives alone and does not have internet access. All of your usual community resources – senior and community centers, adult day care centers, libraries, social services agencies, senior nutrition sites, churches – have closed. Retirement communities and nursing homes have restricted visitors and suspended shared meals and social activities. For many elders, sheltering in place means that they are effectively shut off from the rest of the world. 

Throughout this pandemic, closing the digital divide for older adults is no longer a luxury.  Since COVID-19 is most dangerous for seniors, they are most likely to remain isolated the longest – and are also the group least likely to have an online connection.  

Research has shown that older adults consistently lag behind younger people in their use of digital technology. According to the Pew Research Center, internet usage is nearly universal for those under 50, while nearly 90 percent of those between 50 and 64 are online. However, only 73 percent of Americans age 65+ are internet users.

The disparity in tech adoption is even greater among those over 65. While 82 percent of those ages 65 to 69 use the internet, the percentage declines to 44 percent for those ages 80 and over. Two-thirds of adults ages 65 to 69 subscribe to home broadband, compared to just 28 percent of those over 80. In addition, while the majority of people ages 65 to 69 own smartphones, only 17 percent of those over 80 have these devices. 

Although organizations that serve seniors are attempting to stay connected with their clients, virtual programs are only available to those who are online. Providers estimate that they are reaching less than half of those they previously served.

Around the country, several projects are working to provide connectivity for isolated seniors. With the sponsorship of Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City has provided 10,000 older residents of public housing who live alone with an access device, along with a free internet connection and training. Georgia’s Division of Aging Services has received CARES Act funding to provide internet connections, access devices and training to its older population. In San Francisco, a similar effort is underway, implemented by the Community Tech Network.

On June 23, 2020, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to direct the County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services to partner with Age-Friendly Silicon Valley and others to develop a plan to help older adults who need online access. This small, first step is an opportunity for Silicon Valley and its tech companies, Internet service providers, and nonprofits to provide older adults with a lifeline. 

That lifeline is critical, as this problem will not go away even after older adults can safely go back outside. For the first time in history, the number of people globally over 65 exceeds those under five years old. This is a trend that will continue. The 17 percent of the County’s population aged 60 or over will increase to 26.3 percent over the next decade. In fact, those over age 60 are the only age group that will increase substantially in the near future.  

With or without a pandemic, digital inclusion for people of all ages is something that Silicon Valley, of all places, should be able to make happen.

Richard Adler is a member of the Santa Clara County Senior Care Commission and Chair of Age-Friendly Cupertino. Susan Nash is a Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity and an Encore Fellow with Age-Friendly San Jose. The views expressed here are their own.


The Right to Life Versus the Right to a Livelihood: by Dr. Jim McCabe

July 23rd, 2020

Covid-19: An Ethical Dilemma for the Ages 

The images are striking. The lines of cars miles long waiting for food. The lines of caskets being held in truck trailers because there are so many deaths. The pictures of protestors with guns and signs demanding a return to normalcy. Similar pictures of nurses and doctors with masks and signs asking people to stay home.

And so the tension grows between the providers and the oppressed. What is to be made about the debate pitting the public health against economic insecurity? What’s a society to do for the most vulnerable when “vulnerability” takes many shapes?

The pandemic has put society in the midst of a debate about “rights” — the rights of the individual versus the rights of the many. The challenge becomes one of how to do the best thing.

Often the discussion revolves around how we balance the burdens and benefits of tough decisions so that they do not adversely affect groups in disproportionate ways.

In the case of the pandemic, how do we ensure the safety of our citizens while meeting their basic needs for food clothing and shelter that have been taken away by the shelter in place directives?

Moral Injury

People are being more generous and caring of their friends and neighbors than ever before. We have developed informal families of support through gestures of kindness and support, distanced happy hours and neighborhood concerts and cheering galleries. In the midst of all of this we see the incredible sacrifices on the part of our healthcare professionals and first responders taking a dramatic toll on physical and mental health. They are experiencing a crisis of what Talbot and Dean call “moral injury”^.  It is defined as this feeling of depression, hopelessness and exhaustion. It centers on the struggle between idealism and reality — that we could give better care if we had the resources and tools that our government and hospitals are supposed to provide for us. Instead, the guilt of not being able to provide that care because of inadequate resources leads some health care workers to give up.

The Ethical Challenges of the Pandemic

The business of ethics is usually guided by principles and theories that act as a roadmap for making difficult decisions faced by societies and the individuals within it. The ethical principles focus on the individual’s right to decide (autonomy); being a benevolent society (beneficence); doing no harm (nonmaleficence); and treating everyone fairly (justice).

Over the past few weeks we have seen each of the ethical principles at work. We engaged the principle of nonmaleficence by sheltering in place. Then we legislated an unprecedented benefit package (beneficence). Second and third packages were passed to try to provide support to as many people as possible (justice). And now we consider loosening restrictions as a growing number of people are clamoring for an end to the personal restrictions (autonomy).

The theories of ethics which are designed to guide policy and behavior include Utilitarianism (the best course of action for the most people); Deontology (what our duties and obligations are as a society); andConsequentialism (the rightness or wrongness of any action must be viewed in terms of the consequences of that the action).

Some would argue that if people are against the shelter in place order, they do not have to go out when restrictions are lifted. Opponents would argue that if lifting the restrictions allows a few to resume normal activities and the virus proliferates again, it presents a risk to everyone! So how do we proceed? What is the most effective way to honor peoples’ rights?

A Matter of “Rights”

What is a right? A right is a justified claim on others. For example, if I have a right to freedom, then I have a justified claim to be left alone by others.

Immanuel Kant, an eighteenth century philosopher maintained that each of us has a worth or a dignity that must be respected. Valesquez et al** suggest that “this dignity makes it wrong for others to abuse us or to use us against our will and that a right to freedom, then, implies that every human being also has a fundamental right to what is necessary to secure a minimum level of well-being”.

Critics of sheltering in place would argue that these rights ensure that the freedom and well-being of each individual be protected from actions which threaten their freedom and/or economic well-being.

But proponents of the Utilitarian theory of ethics would counter that rights should not be the sole consideration in ethical decision-making. In some instances, the social costs that would result from respecting a right are too great, and “relying exclusively on a rights approach to ethics tends to emphasize the individual at the expense of the community” **. The utilitarian approach invites us to recognize our relatedness—that sense of community, shared values, and the common good which lends itself to an ethics of care, compassion, and concern for others.

Rising to Meet the Challenge

As the debate about a return to “normalcy” continues I fear more about social unrest than the virus itself. Many of us can control our daily activities to insulate against health risks, but what of the social behavior that flies in the face of common sense. Crowded beaches, gatherings in other public places, a rush to establish economic equilibrium? The fear of a loss of livelihood has exceeded many peoples’ fears for their own personal health and that of their families and communities. The fear is a legitimate one and must be addressed through education, information and solid policy. A lack of leadership has exacerbated the problem at all levels of our society and the starting place for us as professionals is at the most local levels in our neighborhoods and community forums.

People want information they can trust. They want to know that our leaders have their well-being in mind, (That is what drove almost universal compliance to the original shelter in place order).

Moving forward we have to support the activities that have served us well since the onset of the pandemic. I would encourage us to think proactively in three areas. First of all, science matters. Our intervention strategies must be based on the scientific knowledge while resisting the culture of politics. Secondly, innovation and collaboration are a must. Over the past couple of months, we have seen wonderful examples of innovators and collaborators working side by side in new and exciting ways. And finally we need to be transparent with our citizens. We are a resilient group and having solid information, even if it is bad, is the key to developing realistic solutions and fostering the type behavior that is required for healthy communities.


**Issues in Ethics V3 N1, Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, S.J., and Michael J. Meyer (Winter 1990)

^^Burnout on the Front Lines Caring for Coronavirus Patients Neesha Nadkarni  April 1, 2020 The Mercury News

^Physicians Aren’t ‘Burning Out.’ They’re Suffering From Moral Injury. Simon G. Talbot and Wendy Dean, July 26, 2018, STAT



Walking San José: A Conversation with Vietnamese Elders by Theresa Do

July 15th, 2020

Back in February, I was walking to a local Tết Festival when I noticed an older adult standing at the corner of a busy intersection who seemed lost. As I approached the crosswalk, he motioned me over and asked if I was going to cross. He quickly explained that he had immigrated to San José from Việt Nam three months ago, and had never crossed a signalized intersection on his own. 

“So I push this button and just wait for the white figure to appear? How much time do I get? What does the red hand mean?” 

As we walked together, I explained how to safely cross the street and he confided how scared he was to walk because of the speed of drivers. 

“It’s so different from home where traffic flows around you.” 

Before this chance encounter, I had been thinking about how different it is to cross a street in San José than in Hà Nội (pictured above), particularly for newly arrived immigrants and the elderly. And now, as we continue to shelter-in-place, I worry about the lack of safety nets in place to meet the needs of older adults who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Back in February, I wanted to hear from my Vietnamese elders about how they were getting around the City and how the physical layout influences their walking habits. So I reached out to Hoang, the Vietnamese American Cultural Center (VACC) Senior Recreation Leader, who helped me facilitate a discussion with a group of 25 older Vietnamese adults. Hoang began the conversation by sharing an experience where he fell while walking because a tree had over sprouted and cracked the sidewalk. His story struck a chord with the elders and immediately lit the room up in conversation—mostly of how frustrated they were with San José’s sidewalk repair ordinance, which places the responsibility of fixing sidewalks on property owners. 

“Do you all remember Chị Han? The City expected her, as the homeowner, to fix the sidewalk in front of her house. When she complained that the sidewalk is a public space, they added that she needed to pay for a permit and hire a contractor to fix the sidewalk!” 

Without missing a beat, several others cried out, “That’s ridiculous! That’s the city’s responsibility.”  

Then, the conversation shifted to how dangerous it is to walk on certain streets, such as Senter Road, a Vision Zero priority safety corridor located in the Little Saigon neighborhood. One elder brought up the 85-year-old Vietnamese woman who was killed last December while crossing Senter Road. She suggested that while she doesn’t know the solution to stopping these fatalities, the City needs to do something to keep people safer. 

Before our conversation ended, I wanted to lighten the mood by asking one last question: what encourages you to walk? There was a brief moment of silence before the room exploded in chatter. 

“I don’t like to walk!” 

“Sức khỏe! Health. I walk for my health.” 

As Hoang asked for final comments, one elder simply stated, “If it was safer, then more people would walk; if more people are walking, then it would feel safer.” 

While so much has changed since that conversation we had in February, the valid concerns these elders shared who scoffed at the idea of walking around in their own city still resonates. The struggles to walk in their communities have worsened since COVID-19 because older adults are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, and are also more likely to be socially and physically isolated. Many senior wellness programs have been cancelled and community centers are closed throughout the City. Older adults still need to get to medical appointments and grocery stores, but are struggling because bus and light rail service has been reduced and other services, including parks, are limited. And as most of our lives shift online, many older adults do not have access to the necessary devices or have support to teach them to use online tools like Zoom. 

Now, the state is beginning to reopen without a robust plan for where older adults fit into re-entry, and what safety measures will be enacted to protect 1.2 million older Californians as they transition out of shelter-in-place. The harsh reality is that older adults will not be able to go back to “normal” at the same pace as healthy, able-bodied, young people. While Governor Newsom and the state’s Department of Aging have introduced harm reduction measures such as Friendship Line California and Social Bridging Project, we need long-term planning around the explicit needs of older adults in a world that will endure long-term impacts from COVID-19. 

Without guidelines or contingencies for how older adults should safely transition out of shelter-in-place, our older population will continue to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of COVID-19, especially those who are food insecure, low-income, and/or experiencing houselessness. The state has postponed planning of the California Master Plan for Aging, but there is an immediate need for discussion on the impacts of COVID-19 on our aging population and how to effectively address this public health concern. 

Since so many resources are no longer options for seniors, it’s important that we all continue to check-in with the older adults in our lives, express support, and raise awareness of programs that are available. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website provides guidance for older adults, with information available in multiple languages, and AARP outlines advice for specific, daily scenarios given by top infectious disease experts. In San José, the Senior Nutrition Program has transitioned to providing boxed meals to-go at most locations and San José Public Library’s (SJPL) Family Learning Center (FLC) Coordinators have created the Community Connection Hour, a virtual community chat-room on Thursdays at 1 p.m. where residents can ask questions in English, Spanish, or Vietnamese and get reliable information in a safe, secure space. Lastly, at Walk San José, we’re working with the San José Department of Transportation on adapting our Senior Pedestrian Safety outreach series into an online format to address safe walking tips during this pandemic. 

In these uncertain times, we need to strengthen our commitment to creating safe, healthy, walkable communities. We need streets and public spaces that work for everyone, that are designed with people at the forefront as more are out walking and biking. People of all races, ages, identities, and abilities deserve to live in a community that is safe, healthy, and welcoming. As the elders said, we need to continue to demand more of our elected officials and co-create a future where everyone feels safe and comfortable moving under their own power.

To attend a webinar on older adult safe walking practices, please check out our Facebook Page with event information.  

If you’re interested in learning more about our work or getting involved with Vision Zero, please contact me at

Beware of Coronavirus Scams

April 10th, 2020

California Health Advocates warns consumers to be vigilant as scams related to coronavirus testing have begun to circulate. Never give out your Medicare number over the phone or to door-to-door solicitors offering tests.

Visit, download the informational flyer in nine languages, or call 855-613-7080 for more information.

Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley

April 9th, 2020

Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley will continue to provide emergency repairs, specifically for those impacted by the coronavirus, to restore hot water or heat and respond to other emergencies. The repairs will be made by vetted contractors.

Call the main number at 408-578-9519 for more information.

Silicon Valley Strong’s New Website for Volunteer Sign-ups and Resources

April 8th, 2020


Santa Clara County residents are encouraged to go to to locate resources, request resources not yet available, and to find volunteer opportunities throughout Santa ClaraCounty. They are currently working on creating a directory, which will list what all non-profits, faith-based organizations, and cities are doing to help with the effort. A direct email portal to request volunteers and a universal intake form for donations and needs are coming soon.

AARP Community Challenge Application Deadline Extended to May 15

April 7th, 2020

Due to the evolving coronavirus situation, the 2020 AARP Community Challenge application deadline has been extended to 8:59 pm PDT on Friday, May 15.

Challenge funds support quick-action projects that advance key livability areas of improving public spaces, transportation, housing, building “smart cities,” and
encouraging civic engagement.

Please email with questions.

Department of Aging and Adult Services Working Remotely: Services Continue

April 6th, 2020

Though the lobby is temporarily closed to the public, the Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) continues to serve its clients and the community, with little disruption to existing services. Most face-to-face client contact has been halted and in situations for which it is necessary, DAAS has implemented safety measures to protect both clients and staff.

The Senior Nutrition Program has 37 out of its 40 congregate meals sites serving meals to-go or offering delivery. Click here for a map of locations and hours of operation.

SNP is concentrating on serving existing congregate clients, their Meals on Wheels clients, and those who have been previously ineligible for their services but need support due the shelter-in-place. For more information, visit the SNP website or call 408-755-7680.

Adult Protective Services’ 24/7 hotline remains operational to accept reports of suspected or known abuse and neglect to elders and dependent adults: 408-975-4900 or 1-800-414-2002.

During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic, APS is following State guidelines and are prioritizing responses for the safety of everyone. For those at highest risk and in imminent danger, APS may coordinate with law enforcement or first responders as needed.

In-Home Supportive Services continues to accept intakes remotely and respond to phone calls. They are working diligently to ensure clients are provided proper care. Staff is responding to the call lines and there are no outstanding voicemails to be returned. IHSS can be reached at 408-792-1600.

The Office of the Public Administrator, Guardian, and Conservator continues to provide services to over 800 court-appointed clients who are at risk. Referrals continue to be submitted to all programs (Probate, LPS and PA) and are investigated on a case-by-case basis.

Senior Nutrition Program serving meals to-go or offering delivery at 37 out of its 40 congregate meals sites

April 6th, 2020

TheSenior Nutrition Program (SNP) has 37 out of its 40 congregate meals sites serving meals to-go or offering delivery. Click here for a map of locations and hours of operation.

SNP is concentrating on serving existing congregate clients, their Meals on Wheels clients, and those who have been previously ineligible for their services but need support due the shelter-in-place.

For more information, visit the SNP website or call 408-755-7680.

No Senior Congregate Dining Sites Are Offering Dine-In Meals as of March 16 – To-Go/Take-Out Meals Available

March 17th, 2020

The County of Santa Clara Senior Nutrition Program is committed to the health and well-being of all older adults throughout our community. In an effort to maintain that commitment and protect the health of our participants in this complicated time, we and our partners have made the difficult decision to close all sites for dine-in meals as of March 16. We have now moved toward a take-out model at most locations, while a handful of locations have temporarily closed. Click here for a map of locations and hours of operation.

Meals on Wheels continues to provide home-delivery of meals. Call (408) 350-3246 for more information.

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