In Alabama, it’s difficult to imagine that most churches are going to cancel Easter Sunday services this weekend. That, friends, should be a signal of how serious the COVID-19 pandemic is.
So if you’re a little stir crazy, you can’t go to Stir Crazy, a Homewood bar, because it’s closed for the duration. I hope not for forever, though.
If you’re feeling low, you can go to Lowe’s. The home improvement store is open. I have to go there to exchange our home water cooler bottles, but I go at 6 a.m., when it opens and hardly anybody is there.
I’m the errand–runner in our family during this crisis. I’m very careful, because I cannot bring this monster home. Veronica has health challenges that would be exacerbated if she contracts the virus. I’m a hand–sanitation fool. I wear an industrial mask and disposable gloves when I pump gas or use the ATM.
People are doing different things to maintain their sanity and try not to physically harm their spouses and children, who they most likely are seeing far too much of.
This pandemic might have happened regardless of what actions the United States took. But it’s not likely; other countries, including South Korea and Germany, had better leadership and responses. Our president is creating this disaster like he is Donald Trump. I can’t imagine how it could be handled any more poorly, but that’s a foolish bet to make with Trump in office.
I teach my classes from an undisclosed location on UAB’s campus. I need the stable Wi-Fi and, besides, it is physically impossible to work at home when the dogs are going to believe they can help you and will not take “no” for an answer.
I surveyed a few people I know to see how they’re handling the social distancing and the staying at home.
Attorney Johnny Norris, one of the partners in the Davis and Norris, LLP, law firm, has worked at home for a couple weeks now. He meets with his other partner and associates through Zoom meetings.
Norris said lots of law firms are laying off lawyers and staff during this time when the courts are closed. Not his firm. He said that he doesn’t have to take that drastic step for now.
“We’re a consumer rights law firm specializing in class actions and arbitrations,” Norris said. His firm’s 10 lawyers and half-a-dozen staff members are getting their full pay as they all work from home.
Norris and his wife, Missy, live in Hoover. They have a nice pool in the back yard to keep them occupies. Norris’ wife has two bee colonies to manage. And Norris said just for kicks, he and Missy are going to have a Coronavirus Thanksgiving today. He’s going to smoke a turkey, make dressing, and a green bean casserole. Missy may add a squash casserole and deviled eggs.
Leanne Blackmon of Gadsden has been working at home for years. Her online business, Classy Yet Trendy, is a fashion influencer. She said sales of her popular e-books are down, but her site is getting about the same number of clicks as before the pandemic.
“I’m still getting the same number of visitors to my site, because people don’t have anything to do but surf the Internet,” Blackmon said. She’s also adapting to the reality; Blackmon is considering offering a loungewear capsule wardrobe.
While Blackmon works at home anyway, she still is missing out because department stores are closed. She continuously scouts the big stores for current styles with decent prices. She’ll come to Birmingham or go to Atlanta, but right now she’s staying home, like her husband, Danny, a competitive billiards player.
Yes, all sports, including pool, are down. To occupy his time, Danny Blackmon made a billiards ball cleaner and polisher in his home shop.
Leanne Blackmon says from now on, if she and her husband must go out, she’s going to pull out some of her more fashionable bandannas to use as nose and mouth masks.
But for the most part, she said, “We’re just homebodies. We actually get along pretty well, and we always have. That’s a blessing.”
Server and jewelry store owner Rachel Bayerle is counting her blessings, too. A longtime wait staff member at the popular Southside Italian restaurant Giuseppe’s, Bayerle celebrated her 14th year with the restaurant on April 1.
While Bayerle had to close her downtown jewelry store, Charm on Second, for the time being, she’s still serving at Giuseppe’s, which has a pretty strong curbside clientele.
“We’ve had some really gracious people,” Bayerle said. “All of my regulars have shown up, and they’ve left their normal tips, or even bigger.
One generous patron gave Bayerle a $100 tip on a $15 ticket.
Bayerle spends her down time at her Crestwood home with her boyfriend. Both like to put together jigsaw puzzles. “We like the 1,000–piece or more puzzles.” Bayerle also has a sketchbook she works in and her boyfriend has re-landscaped the front yard. “And we’re renters,” Bayerle said.
Bayerle does have some concerns, though. They are the same concerns that many of us have.
“My mom, who’s over 60 (years old), lives in Florida; she thankfully isn’t a smoker any more, but she was for a really long time,” Bayerle said. “I’m not around her, so I don’t know how seriously she’s taking this. Same with my grandmother (who lives in Birmingham). I’ve told her I can’t see her because I deal with the public a bunch.” But if her grandmom needs anything, Bayerle drives it over and puts it on her porch.
And then, not atypical for Alabama: “I’m also concerned about the people who are still not taking this seriously,” Bayerle said. “I know they’re out there because I talk to some of them. I’m worried they’re going to get started back too soon, because a lot of people just want this to go away.”
Most days, even the president doesn’t act like he’s willing to make the difficult decisions; instead, he’s pretty much left the heavy lifting to the individual states, and leadership varies at the state level.
Former Birmingham resident Angela Balfour has moved back to her home state of Connecticut, and she says her state, New York and New Jersey have been coordinating the response to COVID-19.
“People are in serious lockdown here,” Balfour said, adding that most people at grocery stores are in masks. “It’s being taken very, very seriously here.”
Three weeks ago, Balfour was supposed to start substitute teaching. “Talk about incredibly poor timing,” she said. When she was in Birmingham, Balfour was the Education in Newspaper coordinator at The Birmingham News.
Balfour is seriously worried about the president’s decision-making abilities.
“It is frightening to know that every decision made is made based on money and financial interests for him or his family,” Balfour said, noting that Trump is pushing the use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that Trump’s family trusts have a small interest in. Of course, if the drug becomes the panacea, that could change. Or not.
Balfour is right to worry about Trump’s decision-making, though, because in this crisis, he’s been awful.
Kathy Sexton, the associate director of the UAB Tissue Biorepository, has been working full time at home since March 17.
“It’s a little challenging because the Wi-Fi (at home) is not always as consistent as it is in the office,” Sexton said. “Also in the office, I have two screens, where at home I’m working on my laptop.”
Sexton said she has plenty to keep her busy. Her husband, lawyer Steve Sexton, is doing his legal work from his home office as well. Their 19-year-old son, Jonathan, is a first-year student at UAB, now taking online classes.
“It’s one thing to shut everything down for a couple of weeks,” Kathy Sexton said. “But now we’re talking the end of April. At some point, we’re going to have to look at what this is doing for general research and how it affects routine operations.”
Another challenge about working from home is just figuring out how to keep the house running when she’s there full time for UAB. She says she still has home responsibilities: laundry, cooking, cleaning, yardwork.
“I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones,” Sexton said. “UAB is still supporting our employees. I’m fortunate to be in a place(the family home in Glen Iris Park) where we have a big yard and can go outside.”
Jonathan, meanwhile, gets bored and frustrated, but when he does, he hops on his motorcycle and rides around or hits the PlayStation to game remotely with his cousin who lives in Auburn.
Of course, each of the 22,000-plus students at UAB and at all the other universities in Alabama and around the nation have been affected by schedule changes. UAB announced Wednesday that summer classes, too, will be conducted online. There’s no word yet about the fall.
That worries Madelyn Gilbertson, 20, who is at the end of her first year at UAB’s Nursing School.
On March 18, Gilbertson transitioned from in-person classes to online. Her clinicals have been interrupted.
“It’s difficult for me because I like to learn in person,” Gilbertson said. “I find it more effective (to be in person). There’s a lot of things, with nursing, that are hands on. You don’t get the same teaching online as you do in person.”
And classroom teachers aren’t as good online as they are in person, either. I can vouch for that.
To keep from getting bored, Gilbertson works out to “give myself endorphins, and then just to wind down and take our mind off things, my family and I enjoy watching period dramas, like Downton Abbey.
Gilbertson is keeping her chin up, though.
“I don’t have time to be depressed,” she said. “There are still things I have to take care of. The world doesn’t wait for you. You just have to push through.”
So let’s push, people. Let’s push through.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].