The digital drop-off | August 7, 2020 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

- August 7, 2020

The digital drop-off

Some seniors shy away from Zoom, virtual classes

by Chris Kenrick

Before their south Palo Alto gym shut down due to COVID-19, about 185 heart patients were regularly attending medically supervised exercise classes in the cardiac wellness program HeartFit for Life.

With the program now pivoting from in-person classes to virtual ones on Zoom, only about 90 members are still attending, HeartFit Executive Director Robin Wedell said.

About 40 to 50 former gym-goers have left the program altogether, even though Wedell said she's offered technical help to people having difficulty with Zoom. Another 40 or 50 HeartFit members — while not attending the Zoom classes — continue to pay dues and likely will return once the gym re-opens, she added.

A similar digital drop-off has occurred in other local programs serving seniors.

At Avenidas, Tracy McCloud, director of the agency's downtown Palo Alto location, said online classes are operating between 60% to 100% of their pre-pandemic, in-person enrollments.

"The main reason people have given me for not participating is that they don't 'do Zoom,'" McCloud said in an email. "They have the technology; they understand how to do it, but they just prefer not to."

In some cases, instructors themselves are reluctant to host their classes on Zoom because they lack the necessary equipment, are uncomfortable teaching online or — in the case of fitness classes — worry that people will get hurt, McCloud said.

On the other hand, some Avenidas classes and clubs have "well over 100% of their previous enrollment simply because people have the time to participate," she said.

Pinki Fung, who manages the Avenidas Chinese Community Center at Cubberley, said about 15% of previous participants have chosen not to engage digitally but that her program has grown by 20% because of newcomers from places like Sacramento, Los Angeles and Vancouver, Canada.

Reasons for nonparticipation include not wanting to deal with the technology — perhaps for cultural or language reasons, Fung said. Others said they are living in multi-generational households and worry they would slow down internet speeds for other family members, such as grandchildren attending college online.

At HeartFit for Life, one longtime participant who has not converted to Zoom said she was "not up to snuff on the technology — how to get the computer working so you can be a part of that."

But even if she mastered the technology, Zoom participation would be impossible because her husband uses their computer room during the hours of her Zoom class, she said.

"Some people just prefer to do their own exercise right now," HeartFit director Wedell said. "Some may not have a computer. Some have technical issues — it's a variety of things, and it's a work in progress."

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