What you have told us
First, a thank-you to the hundreds of readers who have filled out and mailed (or taken online) our “How are you faring?” coronavirus pandemic survey.
For those who have not yet done so, we will continue to collect and tally survey results for a few more weeks. You can reach it through our website home page (see “Attention Readers” at thebeaconnewspapers.com), or go directly to it at bit.ly/tbns0420.
In the meantime, I want to share some of the results and comments received to date, as I think they are enlightening. Below I combine answers received over several weeks from all four of the Beacon’s readership areas: Greater Baltimore, Howard County, Greater Washington and Greater Richmond.
We asked several questions to find out how many readers are complying with the guidance to stay home as much as possible and keep six feet of distance between themselves and others.
By and large, people are complying very well. In the week before taking the survey, 21% said they had not left their home once, and 49% had left only one or two times to run errands or go to work.
This has, of course, severely limited interactions with other human beings: 29% had not interacted in person with someone outside their home or apartment over the past week. And 45% had only encountered others once or twice in the past week.
Furthermore, nearly everyone (95%) said they have maintained the recommended social distance of six feet when in the presence of others.
Perhaps due to this excellent level of compliance, only 20% of respondents personally know anyone who has come down with COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and only 1% have been exposed to it, to the best of their knowledge.
At the same time, people have continued to reach out to friends and family to stay in touch. Nearly all (98%) told us they have communicated with others via telephone or computer in the past week.
Of particular interest is that many have started using technologies that are new to them as a result of the pandemic. More than 61% have begun using video chat services such as Skype and Zoom, 42% have started using social media, one-third are giving streaming video a try, and 26% have had their first telemedicine experience.
In addition, 20% have started ordering grocery and meal delivery to their home, and 11% have started shopping online for the first time.
These are changes that will no doubt have huge repercussions in the coming months and years. I think it’s wonderful that more older adults are becoming comfortable using these technologies. The impact will, however, no doubt add to the toll the virus has already taken on retail stores, restaurants, and theatre and music venues.
Another unfortunate effect, for now at least, has been that many have cut back on exercise (37%), including regular walks (32%). If this is something you have experienced, I encourage you to try working out at home.
There are hundreds of exercise classes and videos online (search on YouTube or check your county recreation department’s website), or pull out those old Jane Fonda workout tapes, if you prefer. Regular exercise has many benefits, including keeping our immune system strong and helping keep weight gain in check.
Exercise can also help keep our spirits up, which is why some numbers from our survey have been concerning.
About one-third of respondents say they feel lonelier, and one-third feel more depressed or anxious, since being asked to shelter in place.
Perhaps these feelings will pass as society slowly starts to open up again. But if they continue without let-up, it is important to seek help. Trained disaster distress counselors can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990.
Even while experiencing such feelings, most respondents have “taken advantage” of the slower pace of life brought about by the pandemic to do more things that bring them pleasure (or to simply get necessary things done).
More than 70% are reading for pleasure and a similar number are watching more TV and movies. Also popular are calling old friends (60%) and writing letters (41%).
More than half have gone the productive route, cleaning out a room or attic or filing important papers, while 24% have used the time to complete and file their tax returns.
I was glad to see that about 15% have gone the creative route — drawing, painting or playing a musical instrument to help fill the time and refresh the soul.
This gives us a snapshot of how well Beacon readers are coping in these uncertain and alarming times. The additional comments many respondents shared give us even more insight.
To share just a few:
“It’s really scary out there.”
”Less pressure on social obligations, more freedom.”
”I believe the crisis has exposed how so many are in desperate economic straits, and I pray this will lead to systemic change.”
”Neighbors have been so helpful in so many ways.”
”Devastated by total loss of work.”
”How quickly time passes even without social interaction!”
”It makes me sick, depressed and angry that nobody ever asks about what tremendous needs a locked-down, high-risk person has, and the sheer terror that goes with that.”
“This experience has taught me that even in the midst of chaos there is some good to heal the pain.”
”I’m lonely. Not for activity so much as the intimacy of touch. There’s just something about one hand resting firmly over another’s that says, ‘I really care.’”
And one more comment that probably sums up something most of us are thinking:
”My main fear is not knowing when, or even if, life will return to normal, as it was before.”
Even though it’s uncertain what tomorrow may bring, our goal at the Beacon is to help light the way forward as best we can. Thank you for completing our survey and thank you for reading.