The University’s debut senior-living facility has moved in its first residents in Tempe as students returned to campus and as COVID-19 cases reached record-breaking numbers in Arizona.
Mirabella at ASU opened its doors to its first residents in late December. Residents will be allowed to take courses in person and become "lifelong learners" with access to the ASU Library, sporting events, shows and more. As of Thursday, 47 residents have moved in, and they will continue to move in, four units a day, through the spring.
The opening came just days before the start of the spring semester, of which ASU entered with the second-highest number of active COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic at a total of 900 active cases within the ASU community.
The high-rise stands in the heart of downtown Tempe at the southeast corner of University Drive and Mill Avenue.
Towering more than 20 stories and housing 246 apartments, the structure overlooks a city hard-hit by the pandemic with over 15,000 cumulative cases.
With Mirabella’s residents falling within an average age range of 76, the facility has been met with concerns of risking COVID-19 exposure among residents who compose one of the community's most vulnerable populations.
Executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former ADHS director Will Humble called the virus “the number one risk factor by far” among older adults.
“It’s an exponential risk,” Humble said. “The risk increases dramatically after age 65, and especially after age 75.”
Humble said residents should wear a mask when outside of their apartment, stay at least three meters (nearly 10 feet) apart at all times and wait until after they’ve received the vaccine to participate in social events.
To report positive cases, Lindsey Beagley, director of lifelong university engagement for Mirabella, wrote in a statement, the rules of an independent living facility differs from that of the University's.
“Although reporting is not required for independent living, Mirabella notifies ASU as a courtesy and positive results are reported through our lab partner to public health agencies,” Beagley wrote.
Mirabella life, amenities and precautions
Describing the structure as a “lifelong learning" complex, Mirabella’s website says residents will enjoy, “a wealth of dining and recreational opportunities in downtown Tempe.”
Mirabella residents have full access to the ASU Library and can take classes as "guest learners." Residents will be able to attend class in person as long as they follow public health protocols, or they can opt to attend through ASU Sync and iCourses.
They are assigned Sun Cards to access ASU buildings and are considered official members of the University community. Residents will also have access to sporting events, shows at ASU Gammage and the Sun Devil Fitness Complex.
The $252 million retirement community is set to feature a variety of amenities including a gym, theater, art museum, salon and spa, dog park, indoor pool and four restaurants including a ground-floor bistro, an ASU Now article reported.
For resident Ruth Jones, moving into Mirabella is a new chapter and a chance to thrive at her beloved alma mater.
Jones, who taught political science at the University for more than 30 years, said she made the move to Mirabella because she missed the "energy of the campus.”
She said her years of teaching and researching alongside students as a professor sparked her drive for facing new challenges.
“Those students will keep you young,” Jones said. “That's what keeps you alive and active: to learn, to have a purpose, to do things.”
Beagley wrote the University is dedicated to providing opportunities for all members of its community "that follows all public health recommendations," no matter the challenges.
Jones said a day in Mirabella revolves around the wellbeing of its residents. “Every day we get our temperature checked and we get asked a list of questions about COVID-19 exposure,” she said.
Despite these individual daily screenings, staying safe remains a community effort.
Masks are required, so Jones keeps her masks hung by the door at the ready for when she leaves her apartment. Hand sanitizer in hand, she often makes her way downstairs to pick up a pastry at one of her favorite spots, the Dolce Vita Bistro.
At this time, the bistro is the only amenity open and only offers delivery and takeout options.
“I do not feel unsafe, I do not feel that I am at risk," Jones said. "If anything, I feel more comfortable here than if I had to go out and eat in a restaurant or go grocery shopping."
Most importantly, Jones said, residents are free to enjoy their daily activities while maintaining a safe distance.
“We are not crowded, we are not packed in,” Jones said. “When we stand in the hall and we talk, we're not a foot apart, we're six feet apart."
The total number of residents per floor varies on the level of the building, with lower floors housing up to 21 residents and upper floors housing as few as four, according to Beagley. She estimates that around 400 residents will ultimately reside at Mirabella.
“One has to be cautious and one has to be vigilant,” Jones said. “I think everyone I've seen here is smart and knowledgeable about the dangers of COVID. They protect themselves and therefore they protect me.”
As cases grow in Arizona, residents need to get vaccinated soon
As vaccine distribution gets underway, a number of Mirabella residents will be among the first groups to receive it.
“Get. Them. Vaccinated,” was Humble’s message to the University when asked how to keep safe residents safe.
Maricopa County moved into Phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan on Monday, making the vaccines available to law enforcement, educators and adults 75 and older. Over 11,000 ASU community members are eligible to be vaccinated.
Residents met with members of Mirabella staff last week to discuss the vaccine distribution process. Although the vaccine is still not yet available for all of Mirabella’s residents, Jones said she feels confident that when the time comes, the process will be smooth.
“They are strongly engaged because they want us to know and have those options,” Jones said. “I got more information from them than I got from my primary care doctor.”
Beagley wrote the University cannot require Mirabella residents to get vaccinated as the facility is owned and operated by a private entity. Nevertheless, she said both ASU and Mirabella highly encourage its residents to get vaccinated.
If a resident tests positive for the virus, Beagley wrote they will be quarantined in their apartment and Mirabella will "provide routine check-ins and supportive services, including meals and subsequent on-site testing.”
“As Mirabella’s additional levels of care are licensed, it will offer ongoing care and support if residents’ needs progressed, or if post-hospitalization support was needed,” Beagley wrote.
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