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Concerns continue as pandemic lingers on

Malcolm Miller is young and “relatively healthy,” but he checks his phone multiple times throughout the work day to get updates on the COVID-19 crisis and the number of cases in Douglas County, Kan., where he calls home.

It’s going to drive him nuts, a friend interjected as Miller spoke to Ogden Newspapers outside his barber shop in Lawrence, Kan.

“It has,” he admitted.

Ogden Newspapers checked in with people in Ohio, Kansas and and Michigan to ask about how their feelings toward the pandemic have changed since its onset. Some said their fear has lessened, that they feel less uncertainty now compared with how they felt at the beginning of the outbreak. Others said their concern or frustration has increased. One person even said that while it was the pandemic that scared her at the beginning, it’s now the economy that gives her anxiety.

For Miller, his fear has stayed steady.

“I’m doing everything I can not to get COVID, knowing that I probably will,” the 33-year-old said.

Miller owns Amyx Barber Shop North, and said he has been doing everything he can to stay safe at his close contact business. As long as he wears a mask and his customers wear masks, he feels he’s doing the best he can, he said.

But despite being four months into the pandemic, Miller’s fear level remains high.

“On a scale of one to 10, how fearful am I that I get COVID?” he asked out loud, pausing to consider. Before he could answer, his interjecting friend did for him: “He’s at an eight.”

“I’m at an eight? OK,” Miller succumbed.

That same day in downtown Lawrence, Chad Turner paused while eating his lunch outside a local restaurant to share his frustration about the pandemic.

“It’s really frustrating that the past three months of isolation and all the personal and social and economic upheavals have really done nothing to move the needle,” he said.

Lawrence did not start seeing a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases until June, and Turner said it just now feels like the first wave has come.

“We were doing the same quarantine isolation dance three months ago that we’re doing now,” he said. “Everything is shut down. Work from home. Isolate yourself. No options outside your tiny little world.”

Turner, a physician assistant, said the first three months of quarantining were in theory supposed to flatten the curve and lower the number of active cases — they were, in essence, designed to help return things to normal.

“But maybe that’s not realistic; maybe it’s just the new normal, I suppose,” he said.

In Norwalk, Rochelle and Pedro Eguia are stressed about the idea of sending their children back to school.

“We’re scared because school is going to start in a month and nothing’s changed — it’s actually gotten worse than when they closed school,” Rochelle said. “We’re thinking we’re going to home school our kids because I don’t want to send them.”

When schools in Huron County closed in March, there were only five positive cases of COVID-19. Now, case numbers are nearing 300.

“There’s a lot more cases that we know of and a lot more precautions to take,” Rochelle said.

Pedro, who works two jobs, said his anxiety about COVID-19 is getting to him. He said while he’s at work, he’s thinking about keeping himself and his children safe.

“I’ve got two jobs,” he said. “I’ve got to wear a mask 16 hours a day to try to keep myself safe. It puts stress, fear in your mind. I have a part-time job and the customers come in without protection.”

Pedro and Rochelle, meanwhile, have been wearing their masks since March.

“I don’t think the government has done the right thing, the right way. Something is not right. It’s crazy and it’s scary, and I don’t feel safe anywhere,” Pedro said. “This started in March and it was not that bad. It was early when they closed the state, canceled the school but now it looks like the numbers are increasing more than decreasing.”

Rochelle said that not allowing her teenage daughters to leave the house has been particularly hard.

“We have teenage daughters and we don’t even take them out,” she said. “We really don’t go anywhere and their lives are compromised. They’re teenagers. They should be able to go out and do the things we used to do and we can’t. We can’t even bring them to the store.”

Ralph Fegley, the safety-service director for Norwalk, said COVID-19 has continued to be a mystery.

“The thing that’s so difficult is realizing that people who have very little symptoms can spread this stuff,” he said. “We used to think for a cold or the flu or whatever, we always knew there was going to be an end and that’s probably going to be the thing that bothers me the most about this.”

In Alpena, Mich., a pair of moms sat beachside, watching their kids frolic in the wavy waters of Lake Huron at Starlite Beach. The friends said things have improved, but they believe the economy has a long way to go to recover from the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jenny Stevens, mother of two, owns her own business and is a hair stylist, so she has seen a lot of change over the last three months.

“The scare was there, for sure,” Stevens said of when the pandemic began back in mid-March. “Now it’s kind of wearing off a little bit. I own a business, so that was huge for me. We got shut down for three months. And I also do hair, so that was shut down. So, the economy is now scaring me more than the actual pandemic.”

Stephanie Wilds, also a mother of two, said that she and her husband are both nurses so they dealt with a lot of uncertainty and fear since the pandemic began — fear of contracting the virus, fear of being separated from her children, fear of job placement and changes.

But even so, she feels more comfortable now, even though the pandemic is not over.

“I feel like as long as we’re taking precautions, you know, handwashing, social distancing, wearing your masks, I feel like we should be able to do pretty much everything that we did before, with some stipulations and adjustments,” Wilds said. “But, you know, coming to the beach with the kids, that’s something we did before, and that’s something we’re doing now. I think it’s safe.

“Now, we’re trying to just move on with it,” she added. “We’re taking precautions, and I think the country needs to start moving forward.”

Across town at the Alpena Dog Park, a couple was relaxing on a bench watching their son play with their three pooches.

“I think we’re still right in the middle of the first wave,” said Wesley Ranger, adding that he doesn’t feel any safer now than he did at the beginning of the pandemic in March. “I personally think that people need to start taking this a little more seriously than they have been. And, you know, drop all the political rhetoric that’s going on with it.”

He said people should be listening to what the authorities are telling them to do, and abide by social distancing and wear their masks.

“You’re protecting yourself,” said Patti Ranger.

“And you’re protecting other people,” Wesley said. “You have these people who aren’t wearing their masks because of some political statement. It’s just stupid and selfish.”

As far as the young people who are congregating and spreading COVID-19 at parties and on beaches, he said nothing can be done to get them to comply.

“I wish there was, but unfortunately, no,” he said. “I remember when I was young. Young and invincible. There’s nothing you’re going to do or say. Until it affects them on a personal level, it’s just some nebulous thing that’s getting in the way of their fun.”

Patti said when she takes her son Wyatt, 11, out to get groceries just to give him something to do outside the house, he notices when people aren’t abiding by safety practices.

“He’s pointing out to me, ‘Why aren’t they wearing their masks?'” Wyatt’s mom said. “He is very much aware of what’s going on.”

When asked what he thinks of COVID-19, Wyatt summed up his feelings in two words.

“It sucks.”

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