What It’s Like Operating a Honolulu Care Home During a Pandemic

Here’s how Caring Mānoa keeps up social distancing while making sure residents maintain quality of life.

Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.


Todd Pang, 38, is president of Caring Mānoa and lives in Kaka‘ako. Here’s the full version of his story in his own words, as told to Martha Cheng.

  todd pang


When I first heard about the new coronavirus, part of me was like, “It’s just another virus in China.” I lived there through bird flu in 2006 and that was a surreal time, but relatively painless. It didn't really hit me until sometime in January—then I began to think, this is going to become a risk outside of China. I started taking actions to be a few steps ahead. And some of my residents families were upset by the things we put into place very early on, like restricting visitors. But eventually, they kind of came around.


It’s a tragedy that with social distancing, our residents and their families are missing an important part of their identities. Those daily or weekly visits, even if mundane, give a feeling of normalcy and completeness to their lives. We have 16 residents, some in their late 60s, and up until a few years ago, our oldest was 107. For some seniors, living longer isn’t even necessarily appealing to them. It’s about their relationships and a higher quality of life. Pre-Coronavirus we used to encourage group interaction among our residents and their families—with 11 big potluck parties a year where all the families join for games and activities. But we had to stop doing that. Without the grand parties and the intimate visits, then what is there left for them?


For my residents living with dementia, it’s difficult for them to understand the social distancing restrictions, but they totally get feelings of loneliness. For my residents who are more lucid and alert, using FaceTime and Zoom is novel, but not so gratifying to them. It’s like low fat ice cream or something. Not the real deal.


SEE ALSO: What It’s Like Being a Restaurant Server Who Lost Her Job During the Pandemic


With COVID looming, we have been doubling down on bridging that physical gap. We just had a Mother’s Day Zoom party with 40 people. We have amped up our outreach to the families, and my staff have been doing an excellent job stepping up. Some have even gotten creative and made TikTok dancing videos with the residents to send to the families. But nonetheless, it’s not the same without a big fat party together every now and then.


On a personal level, I've gone back and forth between thinking life is really long and really short, especially since we just had our first child in January—it's like, oh my god, she is gonna grow up in a blink of an eye. So my main concern during coronavirus isolation, aside from basic logistical issues like child care and going stir crazy, is that my baby won't get to know her grandparents, and her grandparents will have FOMO for all her changes along the way.


I don’t know what the new normal is gonna be like. Maybe we’re never gonna have the same normal. Like remember when you could walk to the airport gate? Will it be like, remember the time that seniors used to attend parties? What are we going to do if we can’t do that anymore?