Community Voices / Life in the time of COVID-19

Shoppers wearing face masks are met at the door of the Bellingham Costco store with a list of out-of-stock items —markers of the “new normal” during the coronavirus pandemic, at least for the moment. (Amy Nelson photo © 2020)

We asked Salish Current readers and writers to share their stories about how the COVID-19 virus is affecting them in this time of the evolving “new normal” — virtual coffees and happy hours, worries about the vitality of the arts and cultural sphere, isolation and social-distancing rules, and more. Send your story, up to 200 words (via gmail to SalishCurrent or via our Contact page) with a picture, and check back for more.

‘A strange disaster’

Dean Kahn

I’m grateful that I’m retired; hunkering down is second nature to me. But I worry about people who, until recently, went paycheck to paycheck and now face a dire financial future. I’m grateful that our 2-year-old granddaughter lives nearby. In normal times we babysit her twice a week. Her mom and dad are keeping their girl home for now. A wise precaution, but we miss them dearly. My son is at home and he’s done yeoman’s work: stripping wallpaper in the kitchen, helping take down our decrepit basketball hoop, chopping wood. It’s nice to get a leg up on household projects, but I worry about people who face mortgage payments, rent and other debts while being ousted from their jobs. I’m grateful that I live in a city and a state that elects decent public servants. I’m less confident about our national leaders. It’s a strange disaster. Incremental. Invisible. Isolating. Older people are at higher risk, but the pandemic calls for habits familiar to the elderly — patience, frugality, public mindedness. If there’s a long-term upside, perhaps more people will adopt those habits for new normal times, whenever they arrive.
Dean Kahn, Bellingham

‘How will we have changed?’

Jayne Freudenberger

I have to say that having an empty calendar is a nice break from the whirlwind of activities I am used to, but the lack of social interaction is so difficult. Today we had a virtual coffee date with our close friends and it was wonderful to see their faces and share our news. Before we knew it almost two hours had gone by. I highly recommend using one of these apps to stay connected. I am spending a lot of time sanitizing surfaces in my house and as I have been out for groceries and necessities, my hands are raw from washing. Now that we are on “house arrest,” I only go out to the yard and stay far away from anyone I come in contact with, mostly at the mailbox, where my neighbors, starved for conversation like me, gather round to chat. Being a climate hawk I cannot help but wonder if this virus is Mother Nature’s way of saying, “Enough … if you won’t change your habits of consumption and burning carbon, I will.”  What will life be like when this is over? How will we have changed and what will we have learned?
Jayne Freudenberger, Bellingham

Louise Dustrude

Living to see ‘the next thing’

Most important to me is keeping in contact with friends and family, mostly via email or telephone. I do get out once or twice a day: walking to town in the morning and hiking in one of our island parks in the afternoon. I’m very careful to maintain a six-foot space between myself and everyone else. I do miss the library. I have been active in politics for a number of years, and I still see it as the best way to help bring about the kind of world I want to live in. I hope to live long enough to see the end of this cruel and destructive presidency, and of the uncaring and incompetent party that controls the Senate. I’m 88 years old, so dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me; but I am scared of what this illness might be like, and I always want to live long enough to see “the next thing.” Most of the time I find myself marveling at the strangeness of it all.
Louise Dustrude, Friday Harbor

Uncertainties for local arts

Matt Benoit

Because I’m a freelancer, I already work from home, so my “work place” hasn’t changed much. But other things certainly have. Perhaps the biggest impact I’ve faced during this time relates to my hobby of stand-up comedy. There is great uncertainty about when or where local comedians will be performing again. There is also uncertainty about whether the local venues we perform in will survive the economic downturn. Local arts venues are incredibly vulnerable at this time, and I greatly hope they can survive the closures and social distancing we find ourselves undertaking.
Matt Benoit, Bellingham

‘A punch in the face’

‘Mom’ and Shaun Hubbard

My sisters and I agonized over how to protect our housebound 95-year-old mother from The Virus. To minimize visitors, we cancelled her caregivers and worked up Plans B, C and D. Then the unexpected happened. Mike Tyson said, “Everybody makes plans. And then they get punched in the face.” Our mother developed intestinal bleeding. I called 911. While a sister and I sat with Mom in the ER, we were struck by the irony. We had been trying so hard to protect her and here we all were in Virus Central! One of us started giggling and then we couldn’t stop. Apparently, laughter is one reaction to a punch in the face. Our mom stayed in the hospital for 8 days, with lockdown procedures prohibiting us from visiting her. Happily, she is well and safely home. We’d like to put a bubble around her, but home health care workers will be coming and going. All we can do is the best we can do. Gratitude abounds for Mom’s health and for all the heroes in scrubs. We stopped making plans (we hope to avoid another sock in the jaw) and we are just taking it one day at a time.
Shaun Hubbard, Seattle and San Juan Island

Keeping up appearances for FaceTime

Mike Sato

After a few weeks in isolation I’m less fearful but still anxious and uncertain about the virus. My son asked if I’d ever experienced anything like this. The fear and anxiety after 9/11 were there but not the same as this invisible invader. The last time I recalled praying was during the Cuban missile crisis. And before then being scared by polio and the iron lung. But the difference today is the isolation and having to adapt to a daily routine of an empty calendar. Now we FaceTime with family and friends, so appearances must be kept up — showering and shaving and dressing. A day of nice weather permitted my neighbor and me to enjoy an afternoon happy hour sitting in our driveway in beach chairs appropriately distanced from each other and waving to neighbors driving and walking by. I expect to be adapting and innovating as all of us will be to allay our newfound isolation. We’ll do what it takes to go on — and perchance to make things better than before.
Mike Sato, Bellingham and Lopez Island

Happy self-isolated birthday!

Nancy DeVaux

March 22nd was my 69th birthday. I spent it in self-isolation as the best gift I could think of for both myself and everyone else. It wasn’t hard to find things to do things that I enjoy. I planted lettuce; baked banana bread for my birthday cake; built a fire in the backyard firepit with driftwood I collected at Jackson’s beach, along with some yard debris; read a book; took a nap; and went for a walk in a scenic location. I’ve been looking for silver linings in the pandemic and current self-isolation — and finding them in unexpected ways. Yet underlying everything is a sense of the disease and unease that is rapidly expanding around the world. This makes finding positive outcomes feel selfish; when I know that I’m so lucky to be in the San Juan Islands with space around me and beautiful scenery to enjoy.
Nancy DeVaux, San Juan Island

‘Great hope’ for positive change

Mike and Carole Hanaway

Today (March 24) my husband turns 74 while I look at 75. We are watching history in the making. In the past week I have chatted with a former student living in Switzerland; close friends in Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia; Lima, Peru,; and Chester, Connecticut as well as a dear cousin in Dallas, Texas. We left many great friends in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. Go to YouTube and find Son Desierto for real music. We do not feel alone. The negatives we fear are gun-toting neighbors and children in distress. Our immediate neighbors are so supportive and inclusive and give us great hope that we can weather this and come out with positive social, economic and political change … in our lives the worst has always turned out for the best.
Carole Hanaway, Bellingham

‘What a difference a day makes’

Alan and Liz Fritzberg

After several weeks now of a ritual of checking the latest COVID-19 statistics, morning and evening, locally as well as nationally, we feel lucky to be in Bellingham but are still uneasy. So far we are not at one of the epicenters, just uncomfortably near to Kirkland.  Information from day-by-day changes in rules such as six-foot distancing to log plots of infection rates reminded Liz yesterday as the situation being aptly described by the old popular song: “What a difference a day makes, only 24 hours ….” Walking two days ago required changing from the greenways trail to Larrabee Avenue to avoid being too close to other walkers. This morning another walker on the trail backed up from a narrow section to allow us to pass by more than eight feet apart. Again, “what a difference a day makes” can apply to a positive change in people’s behavior that is beneficial to all of us. We have two sons, one in Lynnwood with his wife, both still fortunately working, the other still working in Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton is suddenly feeling much farther away than the hour and 20-minute flight from Abbotsford, BC, due to the closing of the border to nonessential travel.
Alan Fritzberg, Fairhaven