Life in the Time of Corona—Community, Creativity, and Care

I am a news junkie, as well as a health provider, and I can spend hours each day being saturated with the latest news and publicity about coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Numbers, trends, travel bans, economic fallout, school closings, heroic medical personnel, social-distancing—when my eyes blur and my head spins, I try to find images and stories that give me solace and hope.

Italians singing opera from apartment balconies, Iranian doctors dancing to traditional music in hospitals to cheer up patients, Chinese citizens shouting their national anthem from city high-rise buildings, Spanish citizens applauding their healthcare workers each night from their windows—international scenes of courage and community. What else gives me hope, but doesn’t surprise me, are the ways that people, right here in Maine, are helping their neighbors—our neighbors and friends—in each of our towns.

In this time of corona, economic fall-out translates to underemployment, loss of income, and worries about how to pay the bills. School closings abruptly raised critical issues around child-care, working-from-home, children’s education, and student meal programs. Social-distancing and self-quarantining can lead to social isolation, and there is confusion about how to adequately clean our homes, food, surfaces, and most importantly, our hands. But stories of how schools, organizations, and community volunteers are rising to the challenge are in newspapers, social media, and in topics of daily conversation—here are just a few!

In Union 76 (Sedgwick, Brooklin, Deer Isle, Stonington), DISES staff are making meal deliveries to students five days a week, with breakfast and lunch in each daily meal pack. Any child who can “chew and eat grown up meals” can get these free meals. Call your local school office to sign up for home delivery.

The Tree of Life Food Pantry in Blue Hill is operating on Thursdays from 9-3 as a drive-up service. A volunteer will put a box of prepacked food in your car. Friends and neighbors can pick up for people who are self-quarantining. Also, Friends in Action (207-664-6016) has trained, local volunteers who can help seniors get their groceries.

Healthy Peninsula (HP) is connecting volunteers to older people, or others needing extra help, on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle. For deliveries of food from shops or food pantries, prescriptions, and friendly check-in calls, contact aschroth@healthypeninsula.org or leave a message at 374-3257.

The Healthy Island Project (HIP) Lunch Box is a new program offered to seniors which provides lunch on Mondays and Thursdays, delivered to their homes by volunteers. Call Barrett Gray at 367-2253 for information and to sign up.

Other community services and businesses are responding to the changes as well. Local ambulance and fire station volunteers and staff continue to check in with residents who have chronic medical problems and are often isolated from friends, family, and meaningful community contact. Some banks are offering temporary postponement of loan repayments. Restaurants offer special take-out menus, and grocery stores are delivering orders of food or setting up senior shopping hours. Some state parks are waiving their entrance fees to encourage use, and most local schools have trails that families can still access. Many employers are trying to offer partial hours or paid leave to help their employees get by. We seem surrounded by concern, needed services, and creative care—but we all can play a part!

How can we keep ourselves healthy and safe, physically and emotionally? It is really important to get accurate information about the COVID-19. Always check the source of anything you read and hear before sending it on to others. The Maine Centers for Disease Control has up-to-date, scientific information and answers to questions: https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/airborne/coronavirus.shtml.

Although social-distancing and self-quarantine are the most important activities we can do for ourselves, our families, and our communities, we still need to keep in touch with loved ones and friends. Walking or hiking, alone or with companions (six feet apart), exercising at home, meditation, video chats, social media conversations, telephone calls—all keep us connected and active, and lessen stress for those facing financial challenges, working at home, or caring for kids under difficult circumstances. Kids particularly need creative physical, social, and emotional outlets for their energy and to help them deal with their fears or concerns about what is happening. There are lots of educational and creative activities for kids on their school websites and social media, but a simple walk to explore the natural world, in almost any weather, can be educational, nurturing, and energizing for the entire family.

What can we do for others? Volunteer with your favorite local organization. Check in on older or isolated neighbors and friends frequently. Offer to pick up groceries or share a prepared meal. Turn telephone calls into friendly conversations and not just quick check-ins. If you are financially able, order a meal weekly from a local restaurant or buy seafood from a local fisherman—they are important to our local economy and need support to weather this storm. Read books to your grandchildren over Zoom, or other video sites, where kids can see you smile and know that some things in the world haven’t changed.

Your Health Matters is a health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital. Sandra Phoenix is a family nurse practitioner and a member of the Healthy Peninsula Board of Directors.