Sunrise resident, 82, happily on house arrest, COVID-style

EVERETT — Michael O’Donnell is on house arrest, COVID-19 style.

For two weeks, he is confined to his room at Sunrise View Retirement Villa and Convalescent Center. No tossing a football with his buds or lap time with his little poodle pal Cricket.

He’s not complaining.

“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime,” said O’Donnell, 82. “I’m happy.”

He knew the consequences when he left Sunrise on Sept. 20, for an overnight road trip with three family members to Westport to go ocean fishing.

The risk of exposure meant he would have to quarantine for 14 days without his dog, who is staying with another Sunrise resident able to take her outside.

“I broke the rules,” he said.

Long-term care facilities must follow strict guidelines to avoid the spread of the coronavirus due to the close living quarters. To date, there have been 779 cases in county facilities. Out of 209 COVID-19 related deaths in the county, 100 have been associated with long-term care.

Michael O’Donnell, 82. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Michael O’Donnell, 82. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Sunrise, with 79 cases and 15 deaths, has been the hardest hit long-term care facility in Snohomish County, since the first wave of cases in March. Most were early on. The health district lists the outbreak as resolved for Sunrise, where the last death was nearly six months ago, on April 11.

“One case is an outbreak whether it be a staff or a resident,” Sunrise administrator Diane Lopes said.

O’Donnell moved to an assisted living apartment at Sunrise two years ago with his wife, Alix, who later had to go to a care unit. She passed away a year ago.

In April, O’Donnell was profiled in a Daily Herald story about what life was like in Phase 1. At that time, he was able to leave his room to toss a football outside a few times a day but had to send Cricket to live with a family member for a few months. Then, as now, meals were brought to his room.

He called it “a cruise ship on land.”

The months since have varied. He got Cricket back. He ate dinner at his children’s homes. He went on outings.

“It has been mellow and exciting, depending,” O’Donnell said last week. “I noticed a little deterioration in some of the residents. The mood is pretty good now, but it has been up and down, pretty stressful.”

In August, he and others at Sunrise were on restrictions for 28 days due to a resident testing positive on a hospital visit on an unrelated matter. Lopes said the resident tested negative upon return to Sunrise a few days later.

Still, the facility had to abide by the 28-day restriction.

“If a facility has one or more cases identified they’re to return to Phase 1 for 28 days from the last positive or symptomatic staff or residents,” Snohomish Health District spokesperson Heather Thomas said. “It reverts back to more stringent restrictions.”

Lopes said the virus has been the biggest challenge in her nearly 27 years at Sunrise.

“There are so many difficult aspects,” Lopes said. “We are still learning as we go. It is very complex. We have a job to do. It has been really hard. Having to make these hard calls and telling people they have to stay in their apartments is not fun.”

In this case, O’Donnell, a self-proclaimed “free-going boy,” admits he brought it on himself.

“I watch a little TV, throw the football up to the ceiling and catch it maybe 30 or 40 times,” he said.

A worker does the shopping for him and other residents.

“I put money in an envelope and give her the list,” he said. “The last time I got a bag of marshmallows. Don’t tell Dr. Gunderson because I am diabetic.”

As for the fishing trip, well, it didn’t go as planned. After the road trip to Westport with his son, grandson and grandson-in-law, the four men were told the charter boat was canceled due to engine issues.

But O’Donnell was content because he got to watch the Seahawks game with his family at the beach hotel and see his team pull off a victory. Also, the boat company refunded the money and gave them a certificate for a free trip next year.

The next day, O’Donnell went boating in Puget Sound on his son’s rig and caught a 5-pound silver Coho before coming back to Sunrise.

“I reeled him right in,” he said.

His daughter plans to cook it up for him next week.

Andrea Brown: [email protected]; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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