Writing and caregiving and lobbying and volunteering and singing
MARTY WINKLER and NOEL HOLSTON, who are married, are both brimming with creativity, and that’s what drew us to them a couple of years ago. Both are musicians, singers, and writers with two CDs, a book and, by the way, Holston’s second cochlear implant. A lot of good things continue to emanate from their house.
Winkler’s acting career, which was highlighted in the Spring 2019 issue, was paused over the pandemic so in the meantime, she’s produced a CD, “Songs I Never Sang for My Father,” with Michael C. Steele. With a three-octave range, Winkler can sing just about anything but says, these days, “I only do songs that hit me in the heart.”
Now that she’s 64, she’s singing more blues and jazz. “I have taken decent care of my voice and know how to flesh out a song. Early in my career I would not have sung those genres; it would have been invalid. I needed certain life experience.”
Recently Winkler has been signed by Hemifran, an independent Swedish company that promotes and distributes musical artists in Great Britain and Europe.
Holston, too, may be singing again. He got a second cochlear implant in November. When we last visited him in Fall 2019, he had just published a new book about his trials and tribulations of sudden and severe hearing loss: “Life After Deaf: My Misadventures in Hearing Loss and Recovery.” He was supposed to be promoting it when the pandemic struck.
Still, life is looking up. His second implant is improving his hearing so much more, and now he can hear through both ears.
“The brain is adjusting. I had lost music for a decade, but am hearing more instruments, piano and bass,” he says. “I had not talked to my brother on the phone for ten years; I had to have Marty translate for us.” Following his surgery, Noel could finally give him a call on his own. “Best conversation ever.”
Holston’s hearing loss had shelved an earlier musical project, but now with encouragement from friends and Marty, he has produced a new CD, “Better Late,” with Marty, Seth Hendershot, Rick Fowler, Michael C. Steele, Adam McKnight, and The Georgia Sirens. Hear Marty’s CD at martywinklermusicacting.com.
HATTIE THOMAS WHITEHEAD is passionate about her childhood, and the neighborhood in which she grew up: Linnentown. Our readers first met Hattie in our Winter 2019 issue. She was one of several Athens residents profiled because of her activism back in the day, in her case, back in 1963 when she was 14. At the time, she and other young blacks were marching on downtown streets and being jailed as they did their part in an NAACP civil rights effort. In the three years since we first met Hattie, she has been active in another civil rights initiative: The Linnentown Project, and as part of that she’s written a recently published memoir.
Linnentown was a neighborhood of African American houses on Baxter Street, which was torn down in 1962 to be replaced with new UGA dormitories. The city used its power of eminent domain to take the houses and displace around 50 families. Whitehead, her five siblings and her parents had to move.
Today, Whitehead and several other former residents are working with local elected officials and university staff to educate the community and decision makers about the legacy and impacts of urban renewal in Athens. Whitehead began the public awareness campaign when she spoke to a meeting of Historic Athens in September 2019. Since then, the group of former residents and supporters has successfully lobbied the Athens-Clarke commission to approve a resolution seeking a change in the state’s constitution that would make monetary reparations possible. Whitehead’s efforts have gotten nationwide publicity.
She’s currently promoting her book, “Giving Voice to Linnentown,” in which she describes growing up in a loving family and close-knit neighborhood.
“I was able to connect with my ancestors. I gave them a voice. They didn’t have a voice,” says Whitehead. “Sometimes when I was writing, I had to cry. Some things resurfaced that I had not dealt with, so I cried or went for long walks. I walked and talked and connected.”Where does she go from here? “We are in unchartered waters. There is no diagram, no money; we’re a group of seniors but we have a will and energy to seek justice,” says Whitehead.
“I’ve learned that I can speak up. I learned how to write. I learned how to raise awareness.” She’s also currently co-chairing the mayor’s Justice and Memory Project Committee. Some goals include a Linnentown Walk of Recognition and mosaic on Finley Street, and a community-inspired quilt project facilitated by graduate students in UGA’s School of Art
SUSAN BROWN, 73, has a new lease on life now that she is no longer a full-time caregiver. In our Fall 2018 profile of several caregivers, she shared how she had been caring for her brother and sister for several years, moving them from Atlanta and Chicago into rental homes she owned in Athens. When they could no longer live alone as their health continued to decline, she built a house for herself and them.
Earlier this year when she could no longer take care of them, and despite the pandemic, she made the difficult decision to move her brother into a memory care home and her sister into an assisted living facility. Though there are some guilt feelings, she knows he is in a safe and clean environment. And while her sister is not entirely happy, “she can get the help and socialization she needs,” Brown says.
“Guilt is there when we have to make hard life decisions,” says Angela Chavous, Long-term Care Ombudsman at the Athens Community Council on Aging. “It is not uncommon to feel that way, but it is not a sign of failure but a sign of caring.”
Now Susan is selling the house, which became too much to manage. Would she do it all over again? In hindsight, she would look at other alternatives — it was a huge undertaking to try and manage two people and their failing health. She had a big learning curve in terms of managing medications, scheduling numerous doctors’ appointments, physical therapy follow-up, and trying to familiarize herself with various resources such as day care at ACCA.
Now that the weight of day in and day out care has lifted, she’s happy to be socializing with friends and doing some regular exercise.
LINDA DAVIS, was profiled in the Summer 2017 issue of Boom, for her work as coordinator of The Friends of the Brooklyn Cemetery in Athens. The cemetery, behind Clarke Middle School, is a five-acre graveyard of about 1,100 African American people. It was wild and overgrown when a group of neighbors became interested in 2005 in preserving it. Linda’s grandparents are buried there, which inspired her to take on the mission of preserving it. In that role, she organized a 501c3 nonprofit, coordinated clean-ups with dozens of community groups, wrote grants, raised funding, and worked with graduate students on a master plan.
Linda has continued to lead the effort. Hundreds of volunteers work each year to clear the site, removing invasive plants and dead trees. With each uncovered headstone, the cemetery has become more and more a holy place as it rebuilds its truth and restores a sacred dignity to those buried there.
“This is a community project,” Davis says. “It has been cleared by volunteer labor, allowing people to feel a connection and a camaraderie.”
Restoration continues with plans for a fence around the property and paths to return the cemetery to its natural beauty. There are also plans to build a monument on the cemetery’s highest ground that will be designed by graduate students in UGA’s landscape architecture department. This reinterment site would serve as a place for family members to reinter remains that were not originally buried at Brooklyn.
Rosemary Woodel, an 80-year-old member of Friends-of-the-Cemetery, recently sent Linda a video of her singing Arlo Guthrie’s “Holy Ground.”
Take off, take off your shoes
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
The video reminded Davis that she continues to see the cemetery, the final resting place for many African Americans from Athens and the surrounding communities, as holy ground
ALLAN ARMITAGE is well known as a horticulturist and researcher with over a dozen books and hundreds of articles, as well as an award-winning teacher who oversees the UGA Horticulture Gardens. He’s also a crack tennis player, and in the Fall 2018 issue of Boom, wrote an amusing essay about his local tennis team winning the National Seniors title at the 2017 U.S. Tennis Association tournament during their first time competing.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s most recently taken up storytelling, specifically recalling stories about his three children. “Tales of Big Jon and Other Creatures: The Extraordinary Times of an Ordinary Family,” with illustrations by Valerie Nichols, was published in October.
“I’ve been writing this book for 40 years,” he says. “Young children are story machines. The simple act of growing up always results in unplanned adventures and missteps that are wildly entertaining. Every family has them, but I wrote them down.”
The book is getting good reviews, ranging from “hilarious” to “heartwarming and tender.” “It will keep you laughing, reminiscing and entertained from beginning to end.”
ESP (Extra Special People), an organization in Watkinsville that supports individuals of varying abilities, and which Armitage has supported for years, will get a percentage of the book sales.
“I hope the new book is bringing a smile or two. Seems in this turbulent, rather self-centered time, a little humor may go a long way,” Armitage says. He keeps on producing and creating projects because, “I want to wear out, not rust out.”
Laurie is our newest Boom Magazine contributor. Laurie retired from UGA a year ago and quickly filled her time with creative projects. Among these is her rekindled passion for cartooning, a hobby she began in the 1970s as a high school student in south Florida.
She’s always liked comics, her personal style influenced by Gary Trudeau, Gary Larsen, Johnny Hart and Charles Schultz. With an English degree from UCLA in hand, Laurie got a job in the Hanna-Barbera research library, hunting down images and updating files, while being inspired by the HB artists. She met the love of her life on a visit back East, then married him and moved to Georgia, settling into a creative university job that paid her to write, photograph and design. However, all that creating left her little energy for her own endeavors.
Now that she’s retired, she’s pulling several projects from the back burner, including a couple of comic strips she posts on Instagram and dramatic writing for plays, as well as supporting her town of Jefferson with her creative talents — and a list too long to include here. We’re thrilled Laurie is carving out some of her time to share her talents with Boom Magazine in print and in our BoomBlast bi-monthly e-newsletter!
Best shoes for knee arthritis
Experts vary in what they recommend for knee arthritis – some say wear flat, flexible shoes while others advise stiff, stable shoes with good cushioning. A randomized trial in Australia has found that 58 percent of those wearing stable shoes achieved a clinically significant reduction in pain, compared with 40 percent wearing the flexible shoes.
Avoiding weight gain over the years
• Move your body in a fun way every day. Work to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week.
• Eat more plants. Vegetables have phytonutrients and fiber that help with regulating your metabolism and immune system.
• Sit less. Make sure to get up off your chair every hour and move around. If you have diabetes or prediabetes, get up every half hour.
• Eat fewer processed foods. Don’t buy them. Try to eat foods that don’t come in a package or a can. (Source: Prevention Magazine)
Good balance: Use it or lose it
Falls and car accidents (unintentional injury) are the seventh leading cause of death in older adults. While you can’t control other drivers, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your fall risk, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Start at home: get rid of hazards and add anti-slip equipment (grab bars, nonslip treads, night lights, handrails). Then ask your doctor if any of your health problems or medications could increase your fall risk. Ask if physical therapy or an assistive walking device might improve your balance. Wear supportive shoes with laces.
And hone your balance skills by challenging your balance safely. Stand on one foot when you brush your teeth in the morning, then stand on the other when you brush at night — holding the sink counter for balance. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. And exercise!
Prevent cracked heels
• Keep your feet covered in Winter
• Moisturize feet regularly with thick moisturizers (avoid petroleum jelly)
• Cover your feet after moisturizing so you don’t slip.
• Treat calluses immediately with a cream containing urea. Or soak your feet and use a pumice stone
OTC hearing aids this year?
This may be the year that safe, inexpensive over-the-counter hearing aids become available. The FDA has issued safety and labeling rules which are expected to be finalized soon. OTC devices will have the same fundamental technology as traditional hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
Aspirin no longer recommended to prevent heart attack/stroke
If you don’t already have heart disease and are 60 or older, don’t start taking low-dose aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke. If your age is 40 to 59, discuss with your doctor if you should consider an aspirin regimen. These are the latest recommendations from The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued in October. The risks of serious bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract and brain cancel out its use for those without heart disease. However, it still makes sense for those with heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Blood pressure? Aim low.
Previously, experts recommended older people should keep their blood pressure below 140 mm Hg. The latest advice is to bring systolic blood pressure below 130 mm Hg. And those whose blood pressure is above 150 mm Hg will almost always need at least two medications as a single dose will only lower blood pressure by an average of 5 to 10 points, according to a publication by Harvard Health. Discuss with your doctor.
Rethink your supplements
AARP reports on a November 2020 Harvard study that revealed “no clinically measurable benefits” to consuming multi-vitamins. However, older people do sometimes need specific supplements like B12 and D.
As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket across the U.S. and the world, few options are available for treating patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2. But new research from the University of Georgia found that probenecid has broad antiviral properties, making it a prime candidate to combat not only SARS-CoV-2 infection but also other common and deadly respiratory viruses like RSV and flu.
See full story here: https://news.uga.edu/gout-medicine-could-also-battle-covid-19/
By Nicole Pajer, AARP (Illustration by Liam Eisenberg)
You already know that a bad diet and a permanent indentation on the couch aren’t good for your brain. But there are some lesser-known daily routines that could be undermining your cognition, says Jessica Caldwell, a neuropsychologist and director of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at the Cleveland Clinic. Altering just one of these habits could change how your brain works — and help you age healthier and better. And it’s never too late to start. Even people with memory issues can benefit from altering harmful behaviors.
1. You accentuate the negative
Ruminating on grudges, resentments and negative thoughts won’t just keep you in a pessimistic mood; it has also been linked to a decline in cognition and memory in people 55 and older, according to a study in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Participants who repeatedly dwelled on negative thoughts had more amyloid and tau deposits in their brain, the biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease.
Everyone engages in repetitive negative thinking to some degree. “It’s part of the human experience, and not everyone will develop Alzheimer’s,” says lead researcher and research psychologist Natalie Marchant. But it’s also a changeable behavior, according to Patti Johnson, a psychologist in Los Angeles and creator of the anxiety-relief app EmMa, the Emotional Manager for Anxiety. She suggests that, the next time you’re overtaken by negative thoughts, you should do the following:
Make a list of five specific things that you are grateful for, and focus on those.
Take some deep belly breaths, try a new task, or change your focus to something in your environment.
Greet a negative thought when it pops up with “Hello,” then verbally tell it “Goodbye.”
2. You skip your vaccines
It’s estimated that more than half of Americans blew off the flu shot during the 2018–19 flu season, and we know how many people are hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. But opting out of vaccinations may be a missed opportunity in the fight against dementia. For people between the ages of 75 and 84, influenza vaccination was associated with a reduced likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to research led by Paul Schulz, M.D., a neurologist at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Other researchers have found that people ages 65 to 75 who had received the pneumonia vaccination had a 25 to 30 percent reduction in their chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
More research is needed to understand whether vaccinations play a role in protecting cognition, says Rebecca Edelmayer, senior director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association. But the takeaway here, Edelmayer says, is that “vaccinations are one of the most studied and well-tested preventive care measures for your health.”
3. You drink sugary beverages
If your usual breakfast includes a tall glass of orange juice, take note. A 2017 study associated sugary beverage consumption with poorer episodic memory as well as lower total brain volume and hippocampal volume. So avoid soda and sweet tea, and take it easy on the juice. “Even though fruit juice retains some beneficial phytonutrients, it’s primarily a sugary drink without the benefit of fiber,” says Annie Fenn, M.D., the founder of Brain Health Kitchen, a cooking school and community for Alzheimer’s prevention. Consuming sugary drinks may lead to spiking blood sugar and an exaggerated insulin response in many people, which, she says, may trigger chronic inflammation in the brain.
It may be far better to eat whole fruits, not their juices. “A small orange provides 2.5 grams of fiber to balance its 9 grams of sugar,” Fenn explains. “When you consume the equivalent amount of orange juice, the fiber has been strained out.”
4. You have unhealthy sleep habits
Quality sleep is crucial to a sharp and productive mind, according to the Global Council on Brain Health. Consistency is one important marker of good quality sleep: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Shift work, changing time zones, chronic stress and too much caffeine or alcohol can all throw off your rhythm. So, too, can sleeping in a room that’s not cool or dark enough. And if you have symptoms of sleep apnea, such as snoring or daytime sleepiness, see a doctor. “Abnormalities in oxygen level can be damaging to nerve cells, which may accelerate over time and contribute to more memory and cognitive issues,” says Alon Avidan, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
5. You crank up your headphones
If it’s bad for your ears, it could very well be bad for your brain. In a study of 639 adults ages 36 to 90, mild hearing loss was associated with a nearly twofold likelihood of dementia.
As a rule, if someone else can hear sound from your earbuds, they’re too loud, says Nicholas Reed, assis-tant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He also recommends carrying a pair of foam earplugs with you and using them at concerts or sporting events, and removing yourself from loud environments when possible. “If you are standing within 3 feet of someone and you can’t hear them, the world around you is too loud,” he says.
6. You regularly take this type of medicine
A wide array of drugs — including tricyclic antidepressants, some overactive bladder medications and some over-the-counter antihistamines — can block the actions of acetylcholine, a brain chemical important for learning and memory. A study found that a higher cumulative use of these drugs was associated with increased incidence of dementia.
If you regularly take a drug in one of these categories, don’t panic, says Yuko Hara, director of aging and Alzheimer’s prevention at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. But if you regularly take a number of these, it makes sense to ask your doctor about the risk of anticholinergics and to discuss whether you should explore alternate medications or other options.
7. You don’t have a sense of purpose
Bosses, kids, spouses — when we’re younger, it seems like everyone is relying on us. But when we get older, freedom from those responsibilities can have a darker side, as well. “Having a reason to get up in the morning, knowing that people are depending upon you, feeling that you are making important contributions can contribute to healthy aging,” explains Scott Kaiser, M.D., a geriatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found an association in people who scored high on a purpose-in-life assessment: They were approximately 2.4 times more likely to remain Alzheimer’s-free than those with low scores.
If you’re feeling a distinct lack of purpose, do your brain a huge favor by embracing some new responsibilities, says Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California. “Find a new opportunity by using the time and energy not spent on child-rearing or working to get a pet, explore a passion project, volunteer or travel,” she says.
Nicole Pajer writes about health and culture for The New York Times and other publications.
By Lauren Bagett/University of Georgia
Individuals with COVID-19 are most likely to spread the virus to close contacts two days before the onset of symptoms to three days after symptoms appear, and the risk of transmission is highest when patients had mild or moderate disease severity, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Georgia.
The study, which was published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, supports the idea that if a person with COVID-19 is sicker, they are more contagious compared to asymptomatic cases.
The findings provide further evidence for interventions like contact tracing, masking and vaccines, says lead author Yang Ge, a doctoral student in UGA’s College of Public Health.
“We found asymptomatic cases had lower transmissibility compared to symptomatic cases and were less likely to infect their contacts. In addition, we found that contacts that developed COVID-19 infections were more likely to be asymptomatic if they were exposed to an asymptomatic case,” said Ge.
“This suggests interventions like vaccines and masking should continue to be encouraged.”
Vaccines not only protect the vaccinated individual, but they also work to suppress the amount of virus that close contacts could be exposed to, and masking reduces the spread of aerosolized particles that could contain the virus.
The research team drew its findings from a large cohort study of 730 individuals who received a COVID-19 diagnosis in Zhejiang Province, China, between Jan. 8, 2020, and July 30, 2020.
Using detailed health records and contact tracing, the team was able to apply state-of-the-art analytical approaches to determine how the timing of exposure and disease severity impacted the risk of transmission.
The cohort included 8,852 close contacts, defined as members of a household, coworkers, and those exposed in a health care setting or shared transit.
To date, this is one of the largest contact tracing studies of its kind, said corresponding author Ye Shen, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in public health.
Though Shen says that these results need to be repeated in vaccinated populations, the study identifies a high-risk transmission window to help local municipal and public health officials target contact tracing efforts.
The study was co-authored by researchers at UGA, Boston University School of Public Health, Zhejiang Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, University of Texas School of Public Health, and Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Take 5 to save lives
The first annual World Suicide Prevention Day began on Sept. 10, 2003, to focus public attention on suicide prevention efforts and activities. Since then, communities, individuals, practitioners, researchers, and others have responded each year on Sept. 10 by implementing prevention initiatives or campaigns. To assist in those efforts, the National Council for Suicide Prevention launched Take 5 to Save Lives campaign to encourages everyone to take 5 minutes out of their day on Sept. 10 and complete five action items, including: Learn the warning signs, Do your part, Practice self-care, Reach out, and Spread the word. Read more at take5tosavelives.org
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide rates in 2019 were higher among adults ages 45 to 54 years (19.60 per 100,000), and 55 to 64 years (19.41 per 100,000), with the rate highest among adults ages 85 years or older (20.12 per 100,000). Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults.
Pickleball pleasures and pitfalls
Pickleball has many benefits, including eye-hand coordination to keep thinking skills sharp, and lateral motion to balance and strength; it’s weight-bearing, which is good for your bones; and with a smaller court than tennis, it encourages sociability. But it has serious risks, ranging from ankle and knee injuries to elbow and shoulder strains, falls, and fractures, which can be more debilitating as we get older. In addition to warming up and stretching, it’s also important to strengthen legs, shoulders, core, and arms, and follow these safety tips specific to pickleball. According to Harvard Health Letter:
Wear the right shoes – Court shoes are the most important equipment, should offer support but have some give in the sole. Running shoes are a recipe for disaster.
Wear protective eyewear such as goggles or glasses made of polycarbonate lenses.
Hydrate with electrolyte enhanced drinks when on the court. As we age, dehydration can lead to a multitude of problems such as dizziness and potential falls.
Go back to your doctor
National surveys and the CDC have shown that 32% of U.S. adults reported delaying routine care because of the pandemic from March–July 2020. Now that vaccination has become more widespread, geriatricians are urging older adults to pay more attention to preventive screenings, which can identify issues before problems occur—talking about living alone, changes in memory, any falls, and who is around to help out when needed.
People over 65 with Medicare Part B for 12 months are allowed an annual wellness visit once every 12 months, often at no cost. This visit is different for a regular appointment for chronic medical conditions—it’s fully focused on health risk and prevention.
Do you know if you have high blood pressure?
2020 study findings by JAMA found that people’s awareness and control of their high blood pressure have dropped in recent years, especially among older adults. The study found the number of people aware of their hypertension fell 8% from 2018 to 2020. Among those, more than half did not manage it adequately. More troubling, some of the study was conducted using the older definition of high blood pressure (140/90). New guidelines released in 2017 recommend blood pressure to be less than 130/80. The study suggests that even more adults today may not realize they have high blood pressure.
In a special summer session, the state legislature unanimously passed HB 987, which provides more safeguards for seniors in assisted living and personal care homes. Governor Brian Kemp signed the bill June 30.
Sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, the bill requires memory care units to be certified and have more staff; directors to be licensed, and higher fines for infractions. Assisted living homes will be required to have nurse staffing and they must disclose any financial problems to residents and families.
Senior care homes also must plan for a pandemic with a short-term supply of personal protective gear, test residents and staff, and notify residents and families of any outbreak.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 2019 series “The Unprotected” was the impetus for Cooper’s bill. You can read the entire series at gcoa.org/ajc-series-unprotected.
Athens resident Wendy Bartels flew out of Atlanta on Feb. 29 for a two-week cruise along the coast of South America with her sister, scheduled to visit Uruquay, Argentina, Chile, and Cape Horn. They were supposed to return on March 15. Instead they and 2,700 other passengers and numerous crew members wouldn’t get back to the States for a full month.
For the first part of the trip, there was the usual gambling, dancing, socializing, and day trips. When the time came to disembark on March 15 in Santiago, Chile, the world had changed. “We kept hearing how terrible things were,” Bartels recalls.
No one was allowed off the ship, nor was the ship allowed to dock to re-supply. That forced them on to the next port where a ton of supplies were trucked from Santiago and then ferried by boat out to the ship since there was no docking there either.
Luckily, everyone was still healthy as the trip wound down although there were no tests on board. During that time, many, including Bartels and her sister, chose to isolate in the small cabin rooms. Bartels was sick toward the end of the cruise but subsequent antibody testing indicated it was not the coronavirus. When the ship docked in San Diego, one woman was rushed off and spent two months on a ventilator. Everyone else had their temperature taken as they came down the gangplank, and if they were feverish, they were quarantined.
Sorority houses empty out
Susan Reinhardt and three other sorority managers were taking a much-needed Spring break at The King & Prince on St. Simons Island in mid-March. Suddenly, the news was filled with the emerging threat of the coronavirus and the world was upside down. Word came that the university was shutting down and students were told not to come back.
“There we were, the four of us, each in a corner of the hotel room, calling our Boards,” says Reinhardt. The group rushed back to Athens, opened their houses, and notified their residents they would have 30 minutes on a given day to get their belongings and leave.
Now, the governing boards and managers are discussing safety precautions, a reduced number of live-in students, sanitizing protocols, and negotiating the costs of food contracts, security and housekeeping, given a reduced census.
Many, if not most, of the sorority managers are middle-aged women, who will be at much more risk than their young charges. As the countdown to Fall semester begins, Reinhardt and her friends have concerns. “I would usually eat at least one meal a day with them and be in close physical contact as we hold meetings and plan events. That’s going to be difficult now.”
In-person businesses come to a screeching halt
“We’re at the greatest risk of any specialist,” explains Marcus Bullock, practice manager for Athens ENT, one of the largest ear, nose, and throat physician practices in the area. In mid-March, the advice from the governing academy of the specialty advised closing for in-person appointments. “Overnight we went to tele-health.”
The practice immediately eliminated waiting room use and had patients wait in the parking lot to be notified by runners. In fact, entry through the waiting room was changed to another doorway, and patients and all staff began wearing masks, and social distanced when possible. The new routine was tested with two physicians and then increased to three. While they normally had a certain amount of personal protective equipment, replenishing it was a challenge at first.
“We’ve stayed open but referrals are our lifeblood so those fell off,” Bullock notes. Two employees couldn’t report to work when their childcare facility was closed. And two employees contracted the virus from somewhere outside the office – they had mild symptoms for a week. One realized she had it when her daughter asked her “what’s burning?” Loss of the sense of smell is one of the symptoms.
“It’s been a wild ride,” says Bullock.
Local vet changed to curbside service
Hope Animal Medical Center, like all veterinarians, was deemed an essential business during the shutdown of the state beginning in mid-March.
“We decided to be proactive,” says Teri Jordan, practice manager. They closed their waiting room, implemented curbside drop-offs and pick-ups, and eliminated services such as nail trims or baths, and non-essential surgeries. A page at their website outlines the new procedures and even contains informative videos for owners to watch while they are waiting in their car.
The pandemic seems to have encouraged more people to get pets. “People are getting new puppies and kittens because now they’re home and can train them,” she observes. While the practice continues annual exams and necessary vaccinations, they are careful about seeing pets that might have strange symptoms should the virus mutate.
“We’ve been taking this one week at a time, and we’ll follow the advice of the government,” Jordan says. “Most everyone has been understanding. It’s been a nice journey with our clients.”
Enormous changes at the last minute
When the pandemic struck in March, changes for Athena Air Heating & Cooling, came so quickly that the owners of the small family-owned business found themselves “flying by the seat of the pants,” on most days, says Breya Jones, office manager for her husband Nicholas’s business.
“We have two elementary-aged children so we found ourselves balancing home schooling and working remotely as much as possible,” she recalls. Although deemed an essential business, access to protective gear was difficult so the couple closed the business for two weeks. “The beginning was very trying and we, along with everyone else, were left with more questions than answers.”
During that time, she says they spent hours reading about federal loans. Luckily, about a month in, they were approved for the Paycheck Protection Plan Loan, which allowed them to keep employees on the payroll. “We are so grateful to have this buffer.”
Business slowed for a couple of months but is now picking up and now their employees have protective hear. Consultations are done outside or over the phone.
“We are all navigating these uncharted waters together,” she says. “It’s been nice to band together as a community during this time.”
Calming investment clients’ nerves
Michele Pearson owns a local Edward Jones financial services franchise. When the stock market began its pandemic-related slide, she began calling her clients before they called her.
“We had been expecting a market downturn before the virus struck,” she says. “What goes up must come down. We always talk with our clients about volatility but some people don’t believe it, they can’t see it.”
While she says there were a few clients with a “nervous nelly” outlook, most of the alarmed calls were from people who were not her clients. “We give our clients a six-question risk tolerance test at the first appointment. And we try to educate them that in terms of retirement, that they should be chasing a goal, not a return.”
Pearson was in the mortgage industry during the 2008 recession so she has had practice in remaining calm during a crisis. As her corporate office has shared email advice, she passed it along to her clients. She no longer sees people in person and while she has an older clientele, they have learned to interact electronically. For those who haven’t, there’s always the phone.
Still buyers but fewer sellers in real estate
Bob Allen, owner of Greater Athens Property did not see any downturn in closings during the first couple of months of the pandemic. Since real estate transactions usually have a 40 to 60 day delay, business continued apace although closings were done electronically and with social distancing.
“Some sellers pulled their homes off the market but we still have buyers who need a place to live,” he explains. For the time being, the bulk of activity is in new construction or vacant homes. Listing agents are also posting more 3D virtual tours.
“Retirees are still a big part of the market and some shoppers are looking for homes big enough to house their parents,” he says. Allen also owns a property management firm with over 500 rental properties. Only four out of that number couldn’t pay their rent.
Aging agency makes smooth transition
The Aging and Disability Resource Center, a division of the Northeast Georgia Area Agency on Aging, barely skipped a beat when the mayor of Athens ordered residents to shelter in place on March 13. An initiative of the federal department of Health and Human Services, ADRC provides information, referrals, and access to services, ranging from assistive technology, financial aid, employment, Medicaid, housing, caregiving, and more.
“We are pretty well set up to work remotely,” explains Megan Vogt, ADRC program manager, having done so during various weather emergencies over the years. “We do a lot of our work on the phone, and we were able to rout the main line in the office to the same secretary and her cell phone. We wanted as little interruption as possible.”
The center’s staff, which continued to work every day from 8:30 to 5, fielded a lot of calls for emergency financial assistance, meals, and housing, says Vogt. They discontinued assistance for people to move into senior care facilities although they were able to assist with paperwork for transitioning from nursing homes to the community. The 14 senior centers in this region were also closed, which left many seniors who depend on those programs for social connection, with no support system. The center has stayed busy providing telephone reassurance.