Coronavirus: What we are scared — and hopeful — about right now

Remember who we are. We’re Dayton.

Many of us have justified fears right now as we see children play outside in surgical masksschools closegrocery store shelves bareunemployment skyrocket.

Amid all of that, a frequent refrain we heard last week was our community’s proven resilience.

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The Dayton Daily News interviewed people across the region — leaders in education, health care, business owners, and people shopping for groceries or sitting in their windows, afraid to leave their homes — to assess their hopes and fears as the coronavirus public health crisis unfolds.

They pray that the fear turns out to be the worst part. People with a lifetime of public health training say these sacrifices are necessary to save lives. That is more important than anything.

And many of the people we interviewed proclaim that if any region of this stricken nation can persevere through this, it’s the Miami Valley. A calamitous 2019 — marked by hate, disaster and violence — taught us how to be Dayton Strong. And efforts to help neighbors by delivering food and supporting small businesses began alongside government shutdown orders.

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We asked people three questions: What is your biggest concern? What is your biggest hope? What can be done to help? Not everyone had an answer for every question and some answers have been edited for length.

At the grocery store

Holly Shoaf emerged from Costco into the pelting rain with a cart full of supplies for herself, her husband and their 18-month-old. She wore plastic gloves.

Biggest concern: “Running out of milk for the baby, or the baby getting sick.”

Biggest hope: “I hope we all get quarantined for a reasonably short amount of time and that resolves the bulk of the problem.”

Biggest need: “I almost wish they would just do it (forced quarantine) so we don’t keep having this (question), ‘Are we doing it or are we not?’”

Payroll company

Bryan Hunter is CEO of 937 Payroll, which processes payroll for roughly 200 area companies. He’s also a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

Biggest concern: “My concern for my clients is that they may not be able to weather the storm. The short term impacts may be too much for them to withstand on top of everything Dayton went through in 2019. The biggest stress point for myself, as a small business owner, is the unknown. I know what impact this is having on my business today. Many clients have stopped paying their employees or greatly reduced their staff. But how long will this last for? Will the hospitality industry recover quickly or will they only be allowed to slowly ramp back up the number of people who can gather in one place? I have been saving for a rainy day but I don’t know if this is a thunderstorm or a tsunami.”

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Biggest hope: “Everybody is just kind of hoping we get back to normal sooner rather than later.”

Biggest need: “I would love someone to tell us what to expect, with some degree of confidence. If I knew when the projected ‘normalcy’ date was, then I could plan my business operations accordingly.”

Mental health expert

Helen Jones-Kelley is executive director of Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services. She’s also a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

Biggest concern: “I’m concerned about people being alone and stressed out. When people are stressed out, the last thing they need is to be socially distant from each other. I’m also worried about seeing an uptick in the instances of substance abuse again because people are isolated and may begin to self medicate to get past it. We wouldn’t want the trauma and some of the stressers people are facing right now to create a higher incidence and send us back to the (overdose) numbers we were seeing the last five years.”

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Biggest hope: “I’m really hopeful that the sense of resilience and community we seem to have developed over the challenges of 2019 will sustain us through this crisis as well.”

Biggest need: “Right now the biggest thing, it really is … cleaning supplies and toilet paper for mental health facilities.”

Arts advocate

Libby Ballengee produces the Gem City Podcast and is a local arts promoter. She also is a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

Biggest concern: "I'm mostly concerned about the impact this is going to have on the self-employed, small businesses, entertainers and nonprofits that make our city such an interesting place to live. This virus will have macro and micro ripple effects that we aren't even considering yet."

Biggest hope: “At a time of the utmost division in this country, where half of Americans have grown so comfortable that they seem to be incapable of empathy — i.e. immigrants fleeing violence, children being held in cages, the planet dying before our eyes — perhaps it takes something of this magnitude to open people’s hearts and unite Americans, and the world at large.”

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Biggest need: “I would like to see a ‘bailout’ for individuals, small businesses and nonprofits, rather than the airlines, fossil fuels, Wall Street and big corporations. I would like to see the Army Corp of Engineers come into large cities to set up makeshift hospitals as needed. Large manufacturers need to switch gears to make ventilators and other necessary medical equipment. Look at what has worked in Europe and Asia, and replicate that as quickly as possible.”


U.S. Rep Mike Turner, R-Dayton, responded to our questions with the following statement.

“Our most immediate concern is people’s health and safety. Getting information into the hands of those who may be affected is the most important task right now. We are directing people to our website that we are constantly updating with information concerning federal, state and local response.”

Hospital official

Sarah Hackenbracht is president of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.

Biggest concern: “I’m very concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment as this crisis continues to evolve. Gowns, gloves, masks and face shields are essential tools for our first responders and health-care workers who will be on the front lines of this crisis in the coming weeks and months. We need to safeguard their health to ensure they are ready to care for our community throughout the duration of this pandemic.”

Biggest hope: “Time and time again, Dayton demonstrates the spirit of collaboration when faced with a challenge. I have had the unique vantage point of seeing our region’s health-care and hospital leaders set aside their organizational priorities and work together to strengthen our community’s preparedness for COVID-19. Collectively, we will rise to this challenge to take care of our community.”

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Biggest need: “I would ask our government officials, elected leaders and businesses across the country to help us provide our hospital workforce with the tools they need to care for patients. Some of the critical manufacturers and suppliers have been shut down because of this global crisis. One option may be incentivizing businesses to shift production to manufacture the specific types of personal protective equipment approved for use in health-care facilities. Additionally, I would ask for patience and understanding for our health-care workers as they adjust to a new normal as they prepare to serve the community.”

Concerned grandson

Rodney Merrick sat in his car last week outside Dick’s Sporting Goods in Huber Heights, where he picked up some pre-ordered golf clubs that he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to use. Merrick works at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Ohio National Guard. He’s working from home.

Biggest concern: “The elderly’s safety would be my biggest concern. I have a grandpa who has emphysema. I’m kind of concerned for him. He’s already got breathing problems and supposedly the coronavirus is something that can affect that.”

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Biggest hope: “I’m hopeful this is over by summertime. People have plans. I have a lot of stuff going on. I’ve got weddings to go to, bachelor parties in Vegas at the end of May. Get back to a little normalcy.”

Biggest need: “Shutting down things altogether is probably the best idea. It’s going to be hard to keep people locked up for a couple weeks. They might have to incorporate some kind of fines to make people know it’s serious.”

School board president

Denise Moore, president of the Trotwood-Madison Schools board of education, oversaw staff members wearing masks handing out educational materials to parents Thursday at the school board office. She said more than 2,000 students have started online learning and the district is delivering free meals.

Biggest concern: “That people comply. These are not local mandates, these are national and state mandates. We need people to comply. In addition to that, we’d like parents to know they can reach out to this district and staff as well for any additional support or resources.”

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Biggest hope: “Everybody’s safety. We’re hopeful that our kids will be able to return back to school in a reasonable amount of time. We’re hopeful we can get back to some sense of normalcy sooner rather than later.”

Biggest need: “We need up to date information as it comes. How long is this going to last?”

Judge, father, son

Gerald Parker is a Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge. He’s a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

Biggest concern: “The concern is just the uncertainty. I’ve got a wife, 3-year-old and 5-year-old, and I’ve got a mother who’s just over 70. I’m concerned about them.”

Biggest hope: “Let’s not forget who we are. This is Dayton. This is Montgomery County. If anybody is going to live through this, it’s us.”

Biggest need: "If you know someone that's struggling, do Grubhub or something to pay for someone's meals. We can still be creative and help one another while still social distancing."

Dayton mayor

Nan Whaley is mayor of Dayton, which gets 80 percent of its budget from income taxes and is trying to figure out how to maintain police, fire and trash services as people lose their jobs.

Biggest concern: “I’m mostly concerned for small businesses. When I think of what the Oregon District has already been through … I’m super concerned that they are not going to make it without some federal help. My other concern is people don’t take it seriously.”

Biggest hope: “I’m hopeful that because the governor has been so aggressive and we’ve taken it so seriously, going forward this curve is more flattened here than in other places. I would argue we’re probably the most prepared community in the country, just because we’ve been disaster tested.”

Biggest need: “I’m not convinced that the state legislature understands … they’ve got to come loose on the rainy day fund. When you think of who’s on the front line of all of this, it’s the local governments and they’re going to have to get real about partnering (with cities).”

Restaurant owner

Tony Benvenuto, owner of Tony’s Italian Kitchen in Englewood, busily ran the kitchen and rang out carryout customers. The dining room is blocked off. Business is half of what it was.

Biggest concern: “Making sure that everybody stays healthy and that it doesn’t destroy our economy. That it doesn’t last too long.”

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Biggest need: “I think the measures they’re doing right now are the best things they can do to get it under control. As long as people still keep coming in buying food, that would help. As far as government assistance, I don’t know what that’s going to entail because everybody’s got stuff going on.”

Higher education official

Cassie Barlow is president of the Southwestern Ohio Council of Higher Education. She’s a retired Wright-Patt base commander and a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

Biggest concern: “I’m concerned about the surge for our health-care workers. We all need to do everything we can to support them in their critical work at this time. In addition, we all have our daily work to do, whether it is from home or from another location. It is critical that we all try hard to maintain the same level of work for the benefit of our economy.”

Biggest hope: “Dayton is a very strong community and we will pull through this latest crisis together. I’ve already seen many examples of our community members working to support each other during this challenging time.”

Biggest need: “Let’s all keep the ball moving down the field together and we’ll all be much stronger when we get to the other side of the field.”

Bakery owner

Alexandra Rivers is co-owner of Twist Cupcakery, which shut down its storefront in the Sinclair Lofts downtown. Her business is filling existing orders — though events are being cancelled through April — but not taking new ones. She is a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

Biggest concern: “How long can a small business truly withstand not making any money while continuing to pay all of those fixed costs that come along with having a storefront business.”

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Biggest hope: “Dayton is very resilient. I’m hoping that we bounce back from this stronger than ever. Maybe this is a time for either trying to rebuild ourselves, rebrand or come back and be better for our customers.”

Biggest need: “Shop local, emphasis on the ‘small’ and ‘local.’”

Mom of preschoolers

Destynee Gregory sat in her second floor window last week at Meadowlark Apartments in Trotwood trying to get fresh air. Her two preschool children peaked out the window, both wearing masks. Most children in the complex wore them, even as they played outside. She said her 5-year-old has a weak immune system.

Biggest concern: “If they’re going to get ahead of it or not. If everybody doesn’t get tested, how will they know? How long is this going to last?”

Biggest need: “They need to make everybody get tested. It needs to be everybody.”

Dayton pastor

The Rev. Vanessa Ward is president of Omega Community Development Corporation off of Salem Avenue in Dayton. She is a member of the Dayton Daily News Community Advisory Board.

Biggest concern: “I am most concerned about our ability to serve all of the children who might be without food, water and a safe place to sleep. (Dayton Public Schools) is providing breakfast and lunch and making great efforts to deliver to families that have no transportation to pick up the meals at the designated sites. But I am so concerned that there are children whose families are falling through the cracks. I am also concerned about the care of our senior population and the health and wellness of all of those individuals who are serving on the front lines — doctors, nurses, public health servants and essential personnel serving our community.”

Biggest hope: “I am hoping that we are able to flatten the curve and reduce the number of citizens exposed to the virus. This will require a level of compliance with the self-isolation suggestions. This is a request that none of us have every known and as difficult as the request may seem, we know that following this directive will result in more positive outcomes for our community. I am hoping that in these times of isolation we find more creative ways of communicating with each other. We make more phone calls to check on friends, associates, neighbors and family. We take time to read and meditate. We slow down from the madness of living such busy lives and we reflect on the small things that bring us pleasure and contentment.”

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