Institutions adapt to COVID-19
- Published: July 22, 2020
Canceled. Postponed. Temporarily closed. Moved online.
Local organizations moved quickly in mid-March to halt in-person activities to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many groups did so out of what they called “an abundance of caution” and days ahead of state orders requiring Ohioans to stay at home and businesses and centers to shutter.
Then over the last two months most businesses and institutions have slowly reopened following new state-mandated health and safety guidelines. Under Ohio’s “Responsible Restart” campaign, retail shops and restaurants were cleared to reopen in May. Childcare centers, hair salons, gyms and pools followed in June. More recently, amusement parks, casinos, sports leagues and county fairs were given the green light, with restrictions.
But not everything is back open, or back to normal. K–12 schools remain closed as state and local officials prepare for a reopening in the fall. Certain entertainment venues, such as auditoriums, stadiums, arenas and indoor concert halls are still closed. Senior centers, adult day support in congregate settings and rooming and boarding houses are closed.
Those who have reopened, or who never shut down completely, are now operating under new rules in order to create more sanitary and safer settings for people to come together.
This week, the News spoke with leaders at a variety of local institutions who are adapting to a new normal in the fifth month of the coronavirus pandemic, including the Yellow Springs Senior Center, Friends Care Community, Yellow Springs Community Children’s Center, Antioch College Wellness Center and the John Bryan Center/Youth Center.
Yellow Springs Senior Center
Although the Yellow Springs Senior Center’s Xenia Avenue location remains closed to the public — by order of the state — the nonprofit never stopped serving the community’s seniors, according to Executive Director Karen Wolford in a recent interview.
“The building is still closed, but we’re still in business,” Wolford said. “And business is booming in a different kind of way.”
In June, the center restarted its homemaking services, with enhanced safety measures. They had been halted in March.
“A lot of our clients didn’t have their homes cleaned for six to eight weeks,” Wolford said.
Currently, about 30 local households participate in the program, which is offered on a sliding scale with some funds coming from a county grant. That’s down from a pre-closure high of 50. But the program has helped some local seniors stay home and lower their chances of being exposed to COVID-19, from which older adults are particularly at risk of complications.
“The primary intent is to make sure they have a clean bed, a clean bathroom and a clean kitchen as well as provide for errands, companionship,” Wolford said of the program. “It’s a way to get services so people can stay where they are,” she added. “If they can stay home with a little bit of help, that’s where we want them to be.”
The center never stopped its transportation program, which has been seeing more use in recent months after doctors’ appointments resumed. And it is continuing to deliver groceries to local seniors in a collaboration with Tom’s Market, a service that was launched soon after the stay-at-home order was announced. From a peak of 60 orders per week, the center is now delivering around 25 orders per week.
The local senior center has also recently begun offering a wide variety of online activities for local seniors, including French classes, yoga, dancing with Parkinsons, book chats and virtual euchre. They’re also providing online workshops on financial and legal topics (see the weekly senior column on page 2).
For Wolford, it’s vital that local seniors continue to stay connected and active as many are still staying home to remain safe from COVID-19.
“We are trying to get folks engaged,” Wolford said. “It’s been nice to see people in a virtual way and offer a way folks can have conversations.”
In fact, Wolford said that some events have higher attendance now than when they were held in person at the center, while attendees hail from further afield.
“People can do this from the privacy of their own homes,” she said. “This might be our next normal.”
The center is also exploring outdoor activities, beginning with Tai Chi classes, she added. But the buzz of the center is not the same as it was.
“It’s just very lonely in the building. We miss our folks terribly.”
Friends Care Community
July 20 was set to be an important date on the calendar at Friends Care Community. That’s when the state will begin to allow outdoor visits at nursing homes. It would have meant outdoor visits for the nursing facility’s 75 residents as well as the assisting living facility’s 20 residents.
But this week, Friends Care decided to wait a little longer, citing the surge in COVID-19 cases in Greene, Clark and Montgomery counties.
“Since all of our residents are our number one concern, we do not want to risk their health and safety while the COVID risk is still very strong in the surrounding communities,” a public Facebook announcement read.
“This is definitely one of the hardest decisions we as a staff had to make while at FCC,” it added.
Nursing home visits were suspended in mid-March by the state in one of the first steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. The virus can spread quickly in such congregate settings, while older adults are more vulnerable to the disease. As of July 14, more than half of all deaths in Ohio were in long-term care facilities.
Friends Care Community Director Mike Montgomery had been looking forward to starting the outdoor visits, which he said would have been a big step up from both window visits and virtual visits. Those will continue for the time being.
“The residents still want to see their family members,” he said. “They feel isolated.”
During the pandemic, the center has continued to put on activities for residents, although large group activities and the use of outside volunteers have stopped. Bingo, chair exercise, puzzles and celebrations continue. Recently, a Fourth of July cookout and picnic was held. And once hair salons were permitted to reopen, the center was able to welcome back a beautician for residents.
“It helped that the beautician was able to come in to cut hair and shave beards,” he said. “That was a huge boost to everyone’s morale.”
In other good news, the Ohio National Guard recently tested every Friends Care employee — 85 of them — for COVID-19 and found no positive cases. The test was performed on June 23, and the results came back a week later. There have been no confirmed cases among Friends Care staff or residents since the start of the pandemic, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
Montgomery said the facility is also looking to reopen its outpatient therapy services at the beginning of August. And there are plans for the Friends preschool to reopen at its site in the building, which has a separate entrance and can be completely blocked off from the nursing home with a barrier. Of course, it won’t be the same, Montgomery noted.
“Back in the day it was a great intergenerational activity,” he said. “But at least they could still house their classroom here.”
Community Children’s Center
Summer activities are in full swing at the Yellow Springs Community Children’s Center, which reopened on June 1 after a two-and-a-half month closure. Kids in the daycare are enjoying water play, and youth in the summer camp program have been taking bike rides and soccer lessons.
But much has changed at the 94-year-old local children’s center. Most significant is that capacity is down to just 47 children; they were permitted to have up to 102 there before the pandemic. That’s because Ohio reduced the required teacher-student ratios from 1:18 to 1:9. Students range in age from six weeks to 12 years old.
As a result, the center is currently at capacity, with what its director, Malissa Doster, called “an extensive wait list.” Many families who have enrolled their children at the center need childcare in order to work, Doster added.
“It’s pretty much everybody,” she said of the clientele. “Families that work in restaurants, pharmacies, the medical field, essential services.”
Although the local center had received a “pandemic license” to stay open through Ohio’s shutdown as a daycare for children of essential workers, the center decided to close due to staff concerns.
“As more information came out about the coronavirus, we shut down as a precaution,” Doster said. “It was a good reset button for our staff, who came back energetic.”
Doster credits that move as a factor in the return of all staff members on June 1, even though attendance was about half of what it was before the shutdown. Other daycares struggle to retain staff, she added.
“Without the team we have, it could have gone left really fast,” she said. “We’re staying positive and staying supportive.”
Also new are strict health and safety procedures. Although children and their caregivers are not required to wear masks, there are daily wellness checks, parents drop off children in the lobby, food is no longer served family-style, and surfaces are wiped and shared toys sanitized frequently.
“We are cleaning everything, pretty much all the time,” Doster said.
So far, the measures seem to be working, as there has not been a documented COVID-19 case among students or staff at the center.
But with reduced tuition income and higher costs, the center also needs to focus on fundraising, Doster added. Earlier in the spring, the state contributed $18,000 for payroll, while the Yellow Springs Community Foundation chipped in for cleaning supplies. One pressing need is an air conditioning unit for a classroom.
“We’re trying to think of creative ways to do virtual fundraisers,” she said.
The Antioch College Wellness Center has been closed since March 14. Although gyms, fitness centers, yoga studios and swimming pools were permitted to reopen in Ohio on May 26, there are no plans to reopen the local wellness center in the near future.
According to college spokesperson Christine Reedy, the college is taking a “wait and see” approach, noting that cases had recently begun to climb in the county. Reedy said that although mid-June was set as a possible reopening date, the case numbers are not going down.
“The college is taking an abundance-of-caution approach because cases are increasing,” Reedy said. “It doesn’t feel safe right now.”
Asked if the college’s financial challenges contributed to the delay in reopening the facility, Reedy denied that they were a factor.
“Right now, it’s related to coronavirus,” Reedy said.
“Our membership does skew older and the trustees are not interested in the Wellness Center becoming a hotspot,” she added.
In response to a question from the News in late June, Antioch College President Tom Manley said the college’s $8.5 million expense budget for the coming fiscal year didn’t include the Wellness Center.
“It would have to reopen with a regular membership budget, not by college subsidy,” he added. “The board adopted this way of looking at the Wellness Center’s [and other assets’] budgets in 2015.”
The college has taken some tentative steps toward reopening the center for its 1,600 members, the majority of whom have put their membership on hold until the facility reopens. Plexiglas shields have been created for the entrance, and protocols and maximum space capacities have been developed with help of Greene County Public Health and Miami Township Fire-Rescue.
In the meantime, the college is continuing to offer a variety of free resources to stay fit at home. Fitness activities from local personal trainers Doug Jewell and Katie Slanker and fitness instructor Lynn Hardman are available on the site, https://antiochcollege.edu/wellness-center/wellness-at-home.
In addition, the 23% of members who have elected to continue their membership have access to live and pre-recorded virtual classes. Those without a membership can also participate in virtual classes, at a cost of $2 per event.
Bryan Center/Youth Center
Before the pandemic, the Bryan Center was a hub of community activity.
Kids flocked there after school to play computer games and shoot pool in the Youth Center. Adults played evening volleyball matches in the gym. Local organizations hosted meetings in Rooms A&B and dance classes were held in the dance room. Birthday parties, weddings and other gatherings were hosted in various spaces, including the gym.
But these days, the center is being used exclusively for government activities. Currently, it houses the Village administration offices, police department, utilities office and meetings of public bodies.
Although Village officials could reopen the center for community activities, they are waiting to do so in order to preserve local resources and focus on the Village’s “core mission” of government services, according to Village Manager Josué Salmerón recently.
“We’re allowed to [reopen] but there is no point in creating such a burden on our team to clean and sanitize those spaces,” Salmerón said. “We’re not ready for citizens.”
Rooms such as A&B and the art room are too small to accommodate many people with new social distancing requirements, Salmerón added. Meanwhile, the gym is being reserved as the site for public meetings since attendees can most safely distance in that space. Only meetings of the government will be permitted.
Asked about the loss of revenue from facility rental, Salmerón said it was “not significant” and that higher costs for cleaning would outweigh rental income.
The Youth Center, meanwhile, has its own set of challenges, Salmerón noted. The space is essentially a “game room,” with shared game tables, board games, computers and a television. The plan is to reopen the center to some activities, specifically computer and television use, once the municipal pool closes for the season.
“There are a lot of high-touch areas: we can’t accommodate many individuals,” Salmerón said of the room’s challenges.
Outdoor activities at the center, meanwhile, continue. The skatepark was never closed, and both the basketball courts and the playground are now open to the public after being closed for several months.