In a blink of an eye, residents had to adjust to a new lifestyle of “social distancing” and shutdowns for the coronavirus pandemic, with no definite end in sight. The Reporter asked some of them how their lives have changed.
Sally Silver, aide to Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook
“It’s taken me several days for this to kind of sink in. … You look out the window and it looks like the same place you were yesterday.” She has one socializing idea she’d like to run past a doctor friend. “Just for fun, I’m thinking maybe we should institute at least once a week we meet out in the street with a lawn chair, appropriately spaced, and have a happy hour so that we can just talk and see somebody else’s face.”
Travis Reid, Dunwoody resident and business-owner
Reid owns the 20-year-old Square 1 Art in Norcross. Started by his art-teacher mother, the company works with schools nationwide to make products with student art in a sales-sharing deal. It has 44 regular and 300 seasonal employees. “We’re in survival mode,” said Reid of his business as schools close nationwide.
“I’m facing some of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make. How long can I pay employees? I have employees who have worked for me for 20 years and they are family. It’s unavoidable. The company has to survive this. Labor is the first place to save.
“It’s not about profit but about keeping the lights on.”
At home, he and wife Ann discussed the situation over dinner with sons Travis, 17; Connor, 14; and Tyler, 10.
“We talked with our sons to prepare them for what is coming. There’s going to be a hit to our lifestyle.. … These are historic times we are living through. And Americans always rise to the occasion. I give it to them straight and try to stay positive that this will all be over at some point. They took it well. They didn’t panic. They understand there will be no summer vacation this year. Life is on hold right now.”
Sheffield Hale, president and CEO, Atlanta History Center
“Like other nonprofit organizations across the country, we’re trying to figure out how we can advance our mission in the face of this nationwide crisis. History reminds that we’ve confronted opaque, daunting obstacles in the past but have worked together with limited information to overcome them. …
“Overall, as CEO, the pandemic has made me focus even more on how important our part-time staff members are in creating a meaningful experience for our audience. They are who you see leading school tours, performing museum theater, greeting guests at the front desk, and guiding in our historic houses. They also are the ones who serve you a delicious Acrobatic Goat beer at an event. We are fortunate to be in a position to offer a several weeks of paid leave to these critical staff members, but I still worry about how we’re going to support them to the extent they deserve should this crisis continue. These are the talented people who work when there is work to do — and I never imagined that all of their work would vanish overnight.”
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul
“I’m not in personal lockdown. In fact, I’m out and about monitoring what’s going on in the community. This morning [March 15] I visited a couple of grocery stores to watch what was going on, whether shortages are occurring and how people are reacting. I was quite proud of the calm, business-as-usual attitude I saw among those shopping here in town.”
Rosa McHugh, executive director, Chastain Park Conservancy
“The daily uncertainty of what lies ahead is the cause of much anxiety. The reality is that worry will not solve the problem, only action. At home, we have chosen to focus on the things we can control, such as our health, family and daily schedule. We are eating smaller, healthier meals, walking the park daily and actively seeking opportunities to learn new skills….
“At the Chastain Park Conservancy, we are coping by serving others. … We take it upon ourselves to make their experience the best possible, which in turn helps us keep some stability during uncertain times.
“My sincere hope is that we come out of this episode with a renewed sense of community and a reality check. Perhaps we will be able answer these questions: What do we truly enjoy? Can we do it better? How can I best serve?”
Bridget Nabors, Buckhead resident
Nabors is a third-year political science major at the University of Georgia. The school’s shutdown has her living with her mother in North Buckhead. She said calls for social distancing have not been followed by some of her friends, “I guess since we’re young and they assume we’ll be OK if we get it, but the way they have handled has come across as really irresponsible. It’s been a source of conflict for me [and] a few of my friends who understand the severity of it… I had a few friends ask me to go out this weekend to the Buckhead bars and I was like, you know, ‘No.’ I would feel uncomfortable doing that for my own health and I feel uncomfortable with them doing that, and I expressed that.”
Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch
Deutsch’s son, Michael, was recently told to work from home. Her daughter, Rebecca, a student at Texas A&M, came home for spring break. While here, the campus shut down and implemented online learning. She’s not sure when she will be able to return classes. The mayor’s husband, Barry, has worked from home for many years. The mayor, who once reported to City Hall every day, is now also staying at home most of the time to work.
“We’re very fortunate to have the ability to make this work,” she said. “But this is not normal. We’re all working to get to get in some kind of routine just like all families.”
The big “winner” with everyone staying at home, she said, is their dog, Boomer. He will now get plenty of attention from everyone being at home. “He’ll have people he can bother on every floor of the house,” she said.
Kate Whitman, vice president of Author and Family Programs, Atlanta History Center
“I can only imagine what it feels like right now to be an author wanting to meet readers and discuss his or her new book, or a publisher having to rethink an entire marketing plan that relied heavily on book tours and television appearances, or a small independent bookstore that must shutter its doors for the foreseeable future. When I think of this larger picture for the book industry and then the global impact of a infectious disease pandemic, my disappointment seems silly or trivial. It is nice to know we are not alone and that we are all thinking about the ways our lives will look different for a while and be filled with anxiety, disappointment and fear. I know that I will once again get to meet amazing authors and connect them to readers who are passionate about their books. And, in the meantime, I have a huge pile of to-be-read books to keep me company.”
Gordon Certain, North Buckhead Civic Association president
“People are being told they have to stay home for everyone’s good. Most would say, ‘Of course!’ But there are fun options that also keep everyone safe. For example, Blue Heron Nature Preserve just opened up three miles of beautiful trails. Sue and I explored parts of those trails last Sunday afternoon, umbrellas in hand. It was wonderful and healthy. Of course, we could sometimes see other people, usually far away. Occasionally, a small friendly group would walk by and say hi. But mainly we were alone and it was wonderful to get some exercise. Importantly, the sense of being with nature was such a profound change from these troubled times. Don’t just stay stuck at home.”
Julia Bernath, president, Fulton County Board of Education
“We are trying to be respectful of other people’s spaces and we hope other people are, too. We have curtailed our own activities and ordered groceries online for the first time. We also ordered dog food online and it will be delivered tomorrow. “I’m seeing people [on the social network Nextdoor] saying, ‘I’m wanting to help if you can’t leave’ with groceries, prescriptions and other things. Neighbors are helping neighbors.”
Nancy Bliwise, NPU-B chair, Buckhead
“I am very grateful that I work for Emory [as a vice provost and psychology professor]. Our Public Health and School of Medicine faculty kept us very well informed early on so that we understood the risks and the idea of ‘flattening the curve.’ Emory has a great technology infrastructure so moving to telecommuting has not been too difficult.
“I love the extra time that I save from my commute. I get extra time to walk the dog in the morning and to start dinner in the evening. I also like being able to work in my slippers and to spend lunch time doing spring preparations in the garden. I am happy to see families playing outside and greeting neighbors walking their dogs. It gives a wonderful sense of community, especially because it means that everyone is taking care of themselves and others.
“I really miss my colleagues. … I have to remember to move around. It is too easy to stay glued to the laptop.”
State Rep. Betsy Holland (D-Buckhead)
“I’m hearing from lots of constituents who are very concerned that their fellow citizens are not taking the instructions for social distancing seriously enough. I’m getting requests for the city or the state to close non-essential businesses to encourage people to stay home as much as possible. No one has contacted me complaining that the government is overreacting; all of my correspondence has been from constituents urging us to do more.
“I’m also hearing from vulnerable citizens — particularly seniors — who are worried about accessing their food and medicine while staying isolated to protect their health. I’m gratified that organizations like the Atlanta Community Food Bank and corporations like Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light have moved quickly to support more vulnerable populations.
“For me? My family chose to put ourselves on strict isolation starting on Friday night (broken, of course, when I had to go to the Capitol on Monday). We’re eating all of our meals in and are not running any errands. My kid is completing school work via a mix of digital learning and instruction from his parents. Both my spouse and I are teleworking. We plan time every day to go out for walks or nearby hikes, but we’re not playing with any friends or inviting anyone over. For now, we’re limiting all in-person contact to our immediate family. Is it challenging? You betcha. Is it worth it to know we’re keeping ourselves and our neighbors safe? Absolutely. ”
State Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs)
“Certainly it’s an adjustment for everyone, but it’s especially hard on the elderly, the immunocompromised, and people working in our service industries or anyone whose job requires being around others or in public places. I’m hopeful that everyone in our community understands the need to stay home if possible and practice good hygiene. I’m also hopeful that families and friends will be able to take care of our most vulnerable residents as we weather the worst of the virus.”
–John Ruch, Hannah Greco and Dyana Bagby