The pandemic may seem like a social experiment no one could have imagined. But it has magnified a longstanding problem facing many older adults.

These days, 75-year-old Davida Pekarsky feels not just lonely, but overwhelmed by the isolation that’s become standard protocol for many seniors.

“There are about 20 people on my floor, but I haven't seen any of them,” said Pekarsky, who lives in an assisted living facility in Brighton. “We're just really, radically secluded and medically, we were told we should be.”

While everyone’s feeling more isolated now, the pandemic has brought near total seclusion for many elderly people like Pekarsky, who, because of their increased chance of susceptibility to the coronavirus, can no longer have visitors.

She said the virus has brought new a “phobia” into her life; there have been hundreds of deaths in assisted living facilities throughout the state, and according toMassachusetts records, at least 10 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Pekarsky’s facility, Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle.

“I get so scared of opening my door and letting some air in from outside. I’ve become highly sensitized to the safety of my room versus the lack of safety in the hallway. Because some people do have the virus,” she said.

But Pekarsky’s fears are calmed when she connects via computer with a regular visitor, 30-year-old Divya Pawar. On a recent day, the two talked via the video chat program Zoom about everything from haircuts to room decor. To the delight of her older friend, Pawar held up a painting she’d recently done.

Pawar was connected to Pekarsky by FriendshipWorks, a nonprofit that matches volunteers with elders. Before the pandemic, volunteers made in-person visits and helped with household tasks and transportation to medical appointments. The nonprofit, which has focused on social isolation and loneliness in Greater Boston for nearly four decades, has recently seen a rise in volunteers.

“I think the pandemic has motivated many people of all ages to be able to say that I'm making a difference,” said Janet Seckel-Cerrotti, the executive director of FriendshipWorks. “For people to wake up and to recognize that this is an issue and what it must be like for somebody who's alone 24/7 without any social contacts.”

Sandra Harris, the president of AARP Massachusetts, agrees.

Even with people who were not lonely or did not think they were lonely, they're beginning to realize and understand what being alone and [the] feeling of not being connected to the community — what that really feels like,” said Harris.

Even before the pandemic, an estimated one in four older adults admitted to being lonely — a problem that carries social stigma. Researchers say chronic loneliness can impact older adults’ memory, physical and mental health, as well as life expectancy.

“We know from prior work that older adults are at risk of both loneliness and social isolation. The pandemic will undoubtedly make both of these issues worse,” said Dr. Preeti N. Malani, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan. Malani co-wrote a 2019 report on The National Poll on Healthy Aging, which surveyed adults between 50 and 80 years old on companionship and social isolation.

“This restricted visitation is yet another tragedy surrounding the pandemic, as friends and family are not only supporting social well-being but also providing essential care,” Malani said.

Just prior to the pandemic, AARP’s Harris and Caitlyn Coyle, professor and researcher with the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at UMass Boston, initiated a statewide task force to address the problem. Harris and others say the pandemic has galvanized more collaborative efforts between government and community organizations.

“There's more collaborations happening in general where people may have felt a little competitive,” said FriendshipWorks’ Seckel-Cerrotti, “We're trying to work together in better ways, and hopefully that's an outcome that will continue beyond the pandemic and see that we really work better together than separately.”

Over the next few months, the task force — which includes FriendshipWorks and Boston's AgeStrong commission — will conduct what it calls “community conversations” around the state to try to generate solutions. Coyle said the online meetings will draw from a broad range of input.

“It’s about police and fire, faith communities, hospital systems — not just elderly experts,” Coyle said. “We are trying to harvest emerging practices. … One frustration, as a researcher in the state, [is that] we’ve documented the problem ad nauseum, but haven’t moved the needle on where we are.”

A potential positive change Coyle said she foresees is that given the increased use of telemedicine, doctor’s visits on the platform could be used to also screen for social isolation.

Connecting through technology has been a breakthrough for Davida. A family member helped her learn how to use Zoom in time for Passover last month.

And bingo. During the Seder, there was my brother in Cleveland, and my nephew, my brother's son, in Israel. And I got hooked,” she said.

But many older adults don't have internet access. There are calls to address that gap, including more subsidized internet.

But Pekarsky says a simple phone call is all it takes to “open up the seclusion.”

“It really makes it somewhat less lonely,” she said.

Malani urges friends and family members to be more proactive about reaching out, and suggests scheduling a time to check in each day.

Some old-fashioned bridges are being built: Students throughout grade school are creating artwork with the theme of friendship to be delivered to seniors. It's part of a new program started by Arts for the Boston Public Schools to “close the gap between the community and what’s happening in the classroom,” said Anthony Beatrice, the program’s executive director. He said there will be other projects linking seniors to students.

“Our isolated seniors in the city really need an uplifting moment,” he said.

As life returns to something like normal for most, the more vulnerable elderly will likely be isolated longer because they’re more susceptible to the virus.

Seckel-Cerrotti said she is hopeful the rise in interest in making intergenerational connections will continue beyond the pandemic. On Sunday, FriendshipWorks will hold its fifth annual Walk to End Elder Isolation. It will be a virtual gathering this year, where people can build their teams online.

Prior to the pandemic, 69-year-old Elayne Mantas went through a difficult surgery and recovery with FriendshipWorks volunteer Annette Rubin at her side.

“I was terrified and I was almost not going to do the surgery,” Mantas said. “I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

But now Mantas is too afraid to leave the house and only recently waved from her doorway at Rubin, who walked past to wave.

“I was just starting to walk again,” Mantas said, “and then coronavirus came and I was stuck in my house again.”

She said she wonders if the pandemic will create more empathy among younger people.

“A lot of old people can’t go out at all, and to be quarantined like this, now they’re seeing what it’s like,” Mantas said.

Rubin, 29, says the program has also helped her.

“She has made such an impact on my life,” said Rubin. “I get so much from doing this. It’s brought so much joy to my life.”

And Mantas in turn says her younger friend has also inspired her in surprising ways.

“I think I was always a good person, but when I see what she does for people, she’s made me feel like I want to give back,” Mantas said.

Divya Pawar, who visits 75-year-old Davida Pekarsky, said “the biggest realization was the fact that even just one hour a week can make such a significant difference in someone else’s life and help them cheer up.

“Just one hour a week is all it takes to have them not feel isolated and feel like there’s someone there for them,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, she and Pekarsky began making their future plans.

“Once this whole thing finishes, we are going to go get you some Indian food,” Pawar told her older friend. “We should make a list of all the restaurants that we want to visit, after this thing is over. And then we’re gonna check off our checklist.”

Pekarsky giggled.

“And we’ll have to sit six feet away,” she said.