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Edith Bybee said she used to love eating out with her friends every day at the Bolivar Wendy’s.
At 96, Bybee, who lives alone in town with her dog, considers herself independent. She drives herself to church, making the lengthy trek to her place of worship near Polk weekly.
But, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and its effects on the elderly and immunocompromised, plus state regulations limiting social gatherings to fewer than 10 people, have spelled the end of those cherished routines.
Restaurants have closed their dining rooms. Churches are forgoing regular services and instead broadcasting online. And Bybee, who lived through the Great Depression, has opted to remain in her home as much as possible.
It’s a change unlike anything she said she’s ever experienced.
“I have seen a lot of things in my time,” she said. “ … I have lived through dust storms when I was younger but that was just in Kansas. I lived through the Great Depression, but I have never seen anything like this — so worldwide and so dangerous. And we don’t know how long this is going to go on.”
Bybee said she’s fortunate her daughter, Donna Reynolds, visits often with supplies. She said she’s no longer making regular trips to the grocery store but does visit the pharmacy drive-thru when she needs to.
She said staying socially distant “hasn’t been that bad.”
“I first thought it might be overreacting, but now I am thinking it’s probably a good thing,” Bybee said. “And I do fine taking care of myself with my daughter coming to check on me. I am staying home, and I plan to stay home, unless I just do a drive-thru for a sandwich.”
She said she passes the time in between visits with television and phone calls. She doesn’t use a computer, she said.
Isolation is a challenge, she said, but it’s worth it to protect those she loves.
“I first thought (staying home) was too much, but now I’m thinking it is what needs to be done,” she said. “I’m not so worried about getting it myself, but I don’t want my children to get it.”
That’s a safe decision, Polk County Senior Center local lead Kyle Lauer told the BH-FP.
“My advice has been to just stay home and don't go out unless you really need to,” he said.
Social distancing is key to curbing the virus’ spread, Lauer said. It’s important for both those who are most susceptible to the virus — and also those with strong immune systems who might unknowingly carry it — to keep the distance.
“Other than when I’m at work, I’m at home,” he said. “There are a lot of our regulars I’ve talked to that want to go out for a drive. I just try to encourage them to only go out when they need to.”
Lauer said the senior center is offering drive-thru meals to local seniors 60 and older between 11:30 and 12:30 every day.
The service is being utilized, he said, recalling one couple that has come every day since the senior center began offering the meals.
“I know a lot of them have told us they are having a hard time finding groceries,” he said. “And this is really helping them because they're either having a hard time finding groceries or they’ve just come up so they can have that two- to three-minute conversation with us and be social.”
Bolivar couple Barbara and James Woodmansee and their family have come up with their own solution to maintain a connection, despite socially distancing.
The two said they have four daughters.
“It's really hard that we can't see and hug on the grandkids and daughters, but especially grandkids,” said Barbara, who is 75.
But, every other day, a carload of grandkids, driven by one of the couple’s daughters, makes a special trip by the home, she said. They’ll roll down the windows and yell greetings and tell each other they love them.
The special driveby is just what all parties have needed in a time when the family can’t hug and kiss each other, their daughter Robin Woodmansee said. The couple call their daughters every day, she said.
“It seemed like the affection was something my mom really missed,” she said.
It’s been hard, Barbara said, to cancel all appointments and rely mostly on their children and children’s spouses to retrieve groceries and medication.
It’s worth it, though, she said.
"No one wants to get sick and die," Barbara said.
The experience, too, is unlike anything she’s lived through, she said, recalling California earthquakes and Los Angeles riots of the mid-1960s.
“That wasn't as scary as this,” she said. “You knew that was going to end eventually when the rioters got tired of it, but with this you don't know when this might end."