Responding to COVID-19: How The Pandemic Has Changed Us

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Responding to COVID-19: How The Pandemic Has Changed Us

The month of April took our country to places none of us could have anticipated. Collectively, we’ve witnessed trials we might have dismissed at one time with “that could never happen”—yet these things have happened, and we continue on, knowing well that more unknowns lie ahead of us. Living through the evolution of COVID-19 has brought a change to the rhythm of daily life. Where we used to commute, we now set up office in our spare rooms or at the kitchen table. Where we used to eat out with friends every Friday night, we now stay home and cook from the pantry and watch movies. Where we used to say we were invincible, we now know we are not.

One question that becomes more and more pressing as this global situation unfolds is just how current events will impact the future. What will our new normal be in six months, or one year from now? Will the effects of social distancing become permanently imprinted on society, so much so that we experience a sustained sense of lost connection from those around us? Will once bustling office spaces remain quiet as some choose to continue working from home? Will technology increasingly replace our tangible experience with the world?

Our staff here at Strictly Business feels the weight of these questions and the importance of the answers we will give to them in the coming days. As daunting as the future may seem at times, we also see that many good things have come from the changes we’ve had to make in recent weeks. In suffering a loss of certain things we once enjoyed, we’ve also been blessed with other things that once seemed to elude us. We’ve changed in good ways, too.

We now find ourselves spending more time with family, making a priority of health and wellness, taking thoughtful spiritual inventory of our lives, living more frugally, and overall benefitting from the effects of a simpler lifestyle. We’ve read more books, said more sincere prayers, spent more time exercising at home, picked up hobbies we’d nearly forgotten, and dusted off the old guitar in the corner. In short, we’ve found the priceless gifts of human connection, creativity, and ingenuity that come from living through hard times. This experience has begun to clear the fog of our previously overly-busy lives and given us insight into some of the ways we might benefit moving forward. Our hope is that we can remember what we’re learning and use this experience as a catalyst for positive change and growth. In that spirit of hope, we’d like to share a snapshot of the changes we’re already witnessing in our community as well as some suggestions for continued improvement for the future.

Services Adapted to Fit the Times

At the business level, we have witnessed massive efforts to reconsider, reorganize, and restructure the way we do business and how we offer services to our customers and clients in order to continue helping people during challenging and unusual circumstances. These changes have made us uncomfortable at times—change is never easy—while also helping us stay connected with others, as the discomfort of change is one thing we all have in common right now. We’ve been impressed by the efforts of businesses to make sacrifices of time, funds, and other resources in order to continue providing their valued services and products to the public. Our hearts go out to the staff and personnel at hospitals, clinics, assisted living communities, and other businesses providing life-giving services such as home health care as well as those who continue to provide us with food, stock and run our grocery markets, pickup our trash for us, deliver our mail, protect our communities, and provide a host of other vital services, even at the risk of their own health.

We’ve been touched to hear stories of healthcare and assisted living communities that have been forced to close their doors to visitors as a safety measure. The staff at these communities have since doubled their efforts to provide cheer, comfort, and entertainment to their residents, even as they work overtime to do whatever is necessary to keep these residents safe. What further impresses us is how the public has also responded to these situations. Our social media feeds have been graced by stories of people and businesses coming together to meet the shortage of supplies such as N95 masks. Many are having to improvise and use handmade materials to get by. Tabitha has received an outpour of support from various groups and famlies. They shared photos of Betsy Strain, the wife of Tabitha Board Member Bill Strain, sewing nursing gowns for healthcare workers. Many others have since put their sewing skills to use to provide the nonprofit with masks and gowns. Even though closed for business, Sue’s Nails & Spa generously sewed and donated 220 fabric face masks for use at Tabitha. In addition, Super Saver Foods donated 800+ paper bags for Tabitha’s home health and hospice team to transport their face masks, gowns, and supplies. Lowe’s Home Improvement also donated containers and lids to Tabitha to help keep Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) safe. The amazing staff at Tabitha is grateful as they work tirelessly to guard seniors—wherever they call home—against the coronavirus.

Bridge to Better Living is doing all possible to help during the COVID-19 crisis as well. Transition Consultants Jolee Urbanovsky and Margaret Burnham have been delivering Tabitha Meals on Wheels to seniors across the community. Access to proper nutrition is often one of the last factors allowing seniors and those with disabilities to remain safely at home. Much care is being taken to continue this service while adhering to health and safety guidelines. The Bridge to Better Living staff has also participated in a series of other community services such as making face masks, donating blood, and contacting seniors who are isolated.

Days are surely appearing longer for residents in senior living communities as normal activies have been suspended and visitors are not allowed. While staying physically safe, we also have to be aware of the negative mental effects of social distancing. We are encouraged to see friends and families socializing with their senior loved ones in unique ways. Our timelines are filled with photos of friends and family members lined up outside of senior communities holding signs expressing their love while seniors press their faces to the glass inside—“window visits” they call them—then blow kisses and wipe away tears.

Care Consultants for the Aging shared five tips on their Facebook page on how to help a lonely, elderly loved one, encouraging people to reach out to seniors even as we’re all keeping our distance to stay safe:

  1. Show that you are available
  2. Ask how they feel
  3. Be dependable
  4. Help them discover new ways to stay in touch
  5. Ask other people for help

Hillcrest Health Services started a Pen Pal Program to invite the public to email encouraging letters, artwork, photos, stories, etc. to letters@hillcresthealth.com. Recreation teams at the Hillcrest communities in Douglas, Sarpy, and Lancaster counties share the letters with residents and assist them in responding to their new pen pals.

“The idea came about when family members at Hillcrest Millard, our post-acute rehab and long-term care community in Omaha, began taping signs to their loved ones’ windows and ‘visiting’ on the phone with their loved ones from outside,” explained Liz Stratman, Director of Communications for Hillcrest Health Services. “Since launching the program on March 18, we’ve received more than 400 emails containing everything from encouraging notes to YouTube videos individuals have recorded for residents to beautiful drawings and other artwork.”

Any small way to bring a little joy into the lives of our seniors right now is so important to their well-being. Sumner Place Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation told us how residents received fresh flowers in their rooms from Hy-Vee to bring a little cheer to gloomy days. Sumner Place also shared how sidewalks outside of their facility has been decorated with bright chalk in expressions of appreciation and encouragement for the selfless caregivers to continue on with their work.

The threat that the current pandemic poses to those living and working in nursing homes and assisted living is unnerving, but there is a need to focus on the positives happening. One story from The Woodlands at Hillcrest told of how they strengthened and sustained their staff through a long week by hosting a spirit week with days such as Beach Day, Western Day, and Crazy Hair Day to bring some fun and variety to their routines. The staff took pictures to post on social media, and their gestures boosted morale.

In an effort to provide support to caregivers who might otherwise be overlooked amidst everything else going on during the crisis, Home Care Partners of Nebraska recently offered a free podcast with information to help caregivers find the balance between work, kids, and taking care of aging parents. Home Care Partners has also made efforts to both increase safety measures with their own staff to protect patients as well as educating the public on safety measures through efforts such as a free tutorial on how to make your own face mask. To aid seniors in getting through this crisis, they’ve donated hundreds of crossword puzzles, adult coloring books, Sudoku, trivia, and stress balls to patients in Lincoln rehab facilities to keep them engaged along with assisting seniors and their families in a variety of other ways.

Many healthcare providers found in recent weeks that new methods are needed to reach patients in order to limit exposure, and telehealth has quickly become a household word. Beyond Vision LNK acted proactively as the first practice in Lincoln to offer tele-optometry virtual visits along with providing ICare Home and OCT technology to patients so that they can continue to serve their patients while keeping them safe.

Compassionate and ingenious efforts to serve those in need haven’t stopped with the healthcare and senior living communities. Leadership Harbor stepped up to the challenge by offering a relevant service to families who are spending long hours at home. They are now providing online parenting sessions and live calls for parents to ask questions, brainstorm with other parents, and find support during the COVID-19 crisis. They’ve also offered a Mastermind Group on “Leading in Crisis” for adults and youth, as well as coaching/thinking partner services—one-on-one or in groups of three to five—to help people refocus and begin taking next steps with their lives and businesses.

9Round Fitness also looked to the needs of people confined to home by taking their workout services online through livestreamed workouts. Their loyal regulars were able to continue on with their healthy exercise habits and maintain a sense of balance and normal life. Capital City Fitness & Performance continued serving current and new patrons online as well through free “Get After It!” coaching sessions as a solution for at-home fitness with a dose of motivation and accountability. They also have upped their game by offering even more daily workouts through ZOOM than they were offering in person before the crisis struck, with availability Monday through Friday.

Center Sphere took the opportunity to continue serving its members in new ways, in spite of social distancing. Their ZOOM meet-up, “Master the Virtual Experience,” has allowed professionals to continue connecting and networking with others so they don’t feel cut off as they do their part to responsibly keep distance from others while still supporting each others’ businesses.

Sandhills Global teamed up with LIBA and the Nebraska Retail Federation to develop an online platform for local business owners to sell gift cards or gift certificates to help infuse cash into their businesses through the website NebraskaBuyLocal.com. The website acts as a streamlined, centralized location that makes it simple for people to offer support to local businesses.

JetSplash also impressed us in their response to the situation in the community when they lowered their car wash prices and membership rates and eliminated services such as door jamb cleanings and the dash towel exchange program to help keep people safe. We were uplifted when we saw JetSplash spreading upbeat messages of hope through hashtags on their Facebook page, such as #KeepOnShining and #SplashesOfJoy. The #SplashesOfJoy hashtag was used in connection with one particular gesture that especially affected us, as JetSplash thanked professionals on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health crisis and also expressed a desire to support local businesses affected by the situation. As a gesture of goodness, JetSplash announced they had purchased $50 gift cards from various Lincoln-area restaurants and asked the public to nominate a doctor, nurse, hospital/medical staff, medical researcher, police officer, firefighter, or paramedic by tagging them in the comments. They then drew five random winners throughout the month of April and sent them a $50 gift card. “We hope our efforts will spread some small splashes of joy in these otherwise challenging times,” they posted on their Facebook page, followed by, “#SplashesofJoy.”

When we saw this act of kindness over social media, we stood a little taller and found a little more strength to continue on. Suddenly, social media has become a platform for actually reaching out to others rather than a tool for disconnecting and hiding behind a screen. We were encouraged.

Gestures of Kindness and Support

There were others in addition to JetSplash who touched us with their acts of kindness. Right Foot Forward Fitness also held a giveaway, offering gift cards from Raising Cane’s to people who posted pictures showing how they were staying active while practicing social distancing; the gesture gave a boost to people cooped up at home while also offering support to a local business. Right Foot Forward has also begun offering online workouts for their members, sending a new full workout every morning at 5 a.m. to ensure people stay healthy and engaged. Roto-Rooter gave gift cards for local restaurants to their staff as a gesture of appreciation and a way to support local businesses. Erika Jensen, owner of The Chocolate Season, held a gift card giveaway for businesses and individuals who “could use a hug,” after a friend purchased four $25 gift cards to the restaurant and asked Erica to give them away. The recipients were chosen after people nominated candidates on Facebook and Instagram and explained “why they are so special!”

Local internet providers blew us away with their generosity in offering a variety of free services to support local businesses and families. ALLO announced that it would offer 50 megabits-per-second internet service free for 60 days to any customers without current internet service from ALLO or another provider. At ALLO’s Lincoln office and the Haymarket Cube, they opened up community hotspots so people can stay in their vehicles and practice social distancing while still connecting to reliable fiber internet. ALLO also announced that they would be eliminating late fees and penalties for households affected by COVID-19, waiving service modification fees for businesses and residences for the next 60 days, and increasing weekend and evening installation times to accommodate new customer demand.

Kinetic by Windstream launched a free 90-day trial (if ordered by June 30) of its OfficeSuite UC® and HD Meeting services and video conferencing to all new and existing customers in an effort to support businesses implementing new remote work-from-home environments. The service came at a time of great need, as teams suddenly found themselves unable to meet in their usual way, and popular platforms such as ZOOM became overloaded by a sudden surge in users.

We witnessed other gestures of kindness as well. We heard story after story of construction companies donating N95 masks to support healthcare workers in their shortage of supplies. Kingery Construction shared over social media that they were donating boxes of N95 masks to local healthcare workers; Sampson Construction offered nearly 600 N95 respirator masks with particulate filters to healthcare workers; and McGill Restoration led the way in collecting money to purchase KN95 respirators to provide to medical facilities across the nation, with a goal of donating 1 million masks.

In the education sphere, we saw great gestures of kindness and generosity as chefs and staff from Southeast Community College at the Great Plains Culinary Institute announced they would provide four free meals each week for financially insecure individuals categorized as high risk by the CDC—individuals who had self-quarantined out of necessity to protect themselves. The college also announced the SCC COVID-19 Student Emergency Fund created by the Southeast Community College Educational Foundation to support SCC students and their families in need of emergency funds as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The donations are being used to support students struggling with hunger, lack of childcare, inability to pay for medical services, housing, and any other necessary bills such as electricity and heat. The college’s Health Sciences program also donated hundreds of medical supplies to area hospitals, including gloves, masks, thermometers, and lab coats.

CBD American Shaman of Lincoln donated 16 gallons of hospital grade hand sanitizer to the Lincoln Fire Department and seven gallons to the Lincoln Police Department. American Shaman HQ full on stepped it up and turned one of their production lines to bottle hand wash to help communities fill the void. Each of the three CBD American Shaman locations in Lincoln was able to give out 100 free bottles of hand wash with a purchase. The main ingredient in CBD’s hand wash is Hypochlorous acid (HOCl) which is used in hospitals as a disinfectant and a cleaner as well as for cleaning wounds—a very amazing product to have nearby during this time!

Union Bank & Trust really strengthened our faith in humanity when they helped fund an emergency effort to assist a stranded youth group on a mission trip to Honduras in returning safely back home to the United States; the youth group arrived on U.S. soil only 48 hours before the Honduran government grounded all flights and sealed off the country. Lincoln Federal Savings Bank sent an email to their families and employees calling for donations for local food pantries and received nearly $500 in donations in response to a single email. They then encouraged the community to find other ways to support community members in need.

With an eye on the evolving needs of people in the community, West Gate Bank took the initiative to provide a helpful resource to ease a challenging transition. They shared a list of helpful tips online for those now working from home, which they displayed in a memorable infographic, and they also warned against scammers who are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal money, personal information, or both.

A special thanks goes out to all of our local banks and their teams who have put in countless of extra hours working with their business customers to process their Paycheck Protection Program loan applications through the SBA for some much needed funding during this time. We appreciate the work they are doing to keep our local businesses alive.

Resources and Education for Uncharted Waters

West Gate Bank was not the only institution that responded to a need for new information and educational resources tailored to an unprecedented time in history. Berry Law also offered a resource for working remotely through an educational video in which they discussed the importance of schedule and routine in staying productive, along with some suggestions for a possible routine outline. For a nation suddenly overturned by the closing of offices and a flood of people working from home, the discussion of how to create and stick to a strong routine is timely and relevant.

UNICO Group also offered education pertinent to the COVID-19 crisis by organizing a webinar hosted by ThinkHR addressing the most common HR questions and concerns surrounding COVID-19. To further serve the community, UNICO hosted an additional webinar on “Compensability of the Coronavirus and Related Employment Considerations.” These resources provided a steadying stream of clarity and sound information during a time when many people were overwhelmed with fearful and less-than-helpful messages.

North Risk Partners shared a resource that addresses a variety of needs and issues surrounding COVID-19. The COVID-19 Resource Center, powered by Zywave, contains resources such as compliance guides and employee communication templates developed by HR and legal experts, continually updated as the COVID-19 situation changes. North Risk Partners also has and will continue to offer client webinars on the updates during this time. These webinars have included topics such as “Claim Your COVID-19 Financial Relief,” “COVID-19 Law Exemptions & More,” and “COVID-19 Employer Q&As.”

Others in the community have also responded with helpful tips, resources, and educational materials designed for navigating the COVID-19 crisis, much of which is being offered for free. While a steadying hand may be offered on the frontlines of healthcare or through generous donations to the community or other acts of kindness, it is also needed through calm, sound guidance and information that helps us get our bearings and formulate a plan for moving forward.

An Improved Approach to Health and Life

As we press on toward what we hope is the closing of a difficult period in history, it would benefit us to make a record of where we’ve been and what we’ve learned from all of this. We hope to soon see people returning to normal life—embracing friends and holding social gatherings, taking vacations, enjoying dinner at favorite restaurants, and shopping at favorite stores. While we long for this return of life as we knew it, we also hope we won’t discard all of the changes we’ve made in recent weeks.

We aren’t finished with this crisis just yet, and care is still needed in our approach to health and life. Will we ever take for granted again the ability to breathe clean, virus-free air? We hope not. Even as the virus continues to slow in the community, there are things we can do to improve the quality of our air today. Biggerstaff Plumbing Heating & Air recently shared information on an excellent product they offer—the Reme Halo® air purifier—that has been tested on viruses similar to COVID-19 and found to reduce microbials in the air as well as on surfaces. The purifier uses IAQ technology that increases ionized hydro-peroxide output with an enhanced catalyst of zinc for faster purification rates. If you want to improve the air you breathe, you don’t have to wait until people are no longer quarantined!

Will we ever forget the panic that ensued in grocery stores as people cleared out stocks of toilet paper and bottled water? Again, we hope not. We hope that we can all learn from these experiences and make wise choices during crisis-free times so we don’t panic when troubles do come. Stock your pantries and your supplies little by little, all along the way, so you are always prepared. Opt for services that provide you a consistent supply of clean, good-tasting water through businesses such as Aqua Systems, rather than stocking up on bottled water and adding to landfills—and leave the bottled water for people who really need it.

Will we ever take for granted again the ability to stay calm and manage stress with ease? We hope not. Healthy practices and stress management should become a part of our everyday routines, if they aren’t already. If you’ve found yourself struggling these past few weeks to breathe deeply, stay calm, and practice healthy living, it could benefit you to keep a store of products on hand such as those offered by Emris International. Whether you need to boost your immune system, supplement your intake of fruits and vegetables, get a good night’s sleep, or treat your skin to the care it deserves, Emris can aid you in healthy living practices.

Living through the COVID-19 crisis has affected all of us in difficult ways. Even so, the difficulties have opened doors for us to appreciate the good things we still have and to make improved choices for tomorrow so we live better lives in the future.

We know there are so many other examples of local businesses and individuals stepping up during this time, and we wish we could have highlighted them all. If the coronavirus has taught us one thing, it’s that we are living amongst heroes—ordinary men and women who are willing to sacrifice their time, money, and resources for the sake of others, and it’s done with love and compassion.

We may not be invincible, but we sure are strong as a community. We look forward to hearing about other acts of kindness and unique ways businesses are responding to the pandemic. Let’s continue to face the uncertainties the best way we know how: together.