Virus spike, quarantine fatigue clash in the Heartland

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday the 30th of July, 2020.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. 

First up … COVID-19 hits the Heartland.

In June and July, COVID-19 case counts quickly climbed across the Midwest especially in cities like Wichita, Kansas and St. Louis, Missouri.

BASHAM: But quarantine exhaustion is also on the rise. People are desperate for personal interaction, even as they struggle to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports now on that tension.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The Beacon of Hope Shelter in Fort Dodge, Iowa houses men transitioning from prison or struggling with addiction and mental illness.

Steve Roe runs the shelter. Back in March, when the coronavirus first hit, Roe quickly adopted C-D-C guidelines. He told the men if they weren’t willing to lockdown in the shelter, they had to leave. Half of them did. 

ROE: We have a number of elderly guys that come to us that have some pretty major health issues. If we were to get the coronavirus, you could almost compare us to a nursing home because of the health of many of the guys that live with us. 

The shelter had the men wear masks, wash hands, and didn’t let them leave. But, Steve Roe says after five months of lockdown, something had to change. 

ROE: We were now at that point, you can’t live in a bubble for the rest of your life either. And so we’re allowing them to go out and do some day jobs like doing yard work, and stuff like that.

That even as the total number of coronavirus cases in the area have multiplied 12 times since June 1st. An outbreak at the Fort Dodge State Correctional Facility caused part of that increase, but more than half of the county’s nearly 500 cases occurred outside the prison. 

Roe is personally concerned about catching the virus. His wife and daughter have autoimmune disorders. But he says, life has to go on while taking precautions. The shelter’s men still wear masks, and staff check their temperatures three times a day.

ROE: We have made a decision that we’re not going to live in fear, and that we’re just going to do the best we can to prevent the virus. 

During the spring months, COVID-19 case counts mostly stayed low across the Midwest. And even though they’re rising now, deaths from the disease have not increased. Still, no one wants to be responsible for spreading it to a friend or neighbor.

Michelle Vann is a Christian speaker and pastor’s wife in Wichita, Kansas. Her congregation is primarily African-American. Vann says that made the church especially cautious because data shows the virus can disproportionately affect minority communities. The church closed in March and didn’t reopen until late June. 

Vann: We started having parking lot church for a couple of weeks and then it got really, really hot. And so we are meeting in our gym at our church so that we can social distance and spread out and things of that nature.

Now cases are surging in the area. The city of Wichita and its surrounding county went from about 150 active cases on June 1 to nearly 18-hundred seven weeks later. That led the county’s top physician to ban gatherings of more than 15 people.

Churches are exempt but Vann’s church is considering going back online. 

Vann: What we don’t want to do is be that cluster.

But it’s hard to think about going back online when the church is socially and spiritually nourishing families after months of separation.

Vann: There’s only so much, you know, so much feeling that you can get when you were hearing a message online on your computer … so that that disconnect of computer fatigue happens.

Dr. Ron Ferris runs a Catholic family medical clinic in Wichita. He says the rise in cases is frustrating. 

Ferris: People were ready to hopefully return to normalcy, but that didn’t happen. So everything is canceled. Some people are saying life is canceled… 

Going back into lockdown also has wider effects. Ferris says hospice patients he cares for are spending their dying days in isolation. Parents have stopped bringing their children to his clinic for check-ups. And elderly people are missing appointments that would help maintain their health.

Ferris: Most of the cases like we’re seeing are not fatal. But it’s those fatal cases that drives the fear factor into everyone.

In St. Louis, cases have also climbed in June and July. And data shows infection rates among Black and Hispanic people are three times higher than among whites. 

Reverend Stanish Stanley is an immigrant from Mumbai, India. He directs the Christian Friends of New America. It’s an outreach to new immigrants and refugees in the area. 

The people he serves are from Africa and the Middle East. Stanley says people from these cultures rely on physical affection and close proximity much more than most Americans.

Stanley: The virus, kind of in a way is, is breaking that bond of social togetherness.

The Reverend Angel (On-gel) Viveros in Lincoln, Nebraska echoes Stanley’s concerns. He says his Spanish-speaking congregation likes to hug and shake hands. But while cases also surge in his city, and church members stay away from each other, he encourages them to do their best with technology. 

Viveros: We keep our brotherhood by Zoom, by social media, calling them or sending personal letters. I think that is our best things you know taking taking time for to spread that love each other.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

Kansas National Guard member Jessica Pal collects a sample at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Dodge City, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.