Reaction to coronavirus a mixed bag for local seniors

Evanston senior citizen Barb Hager, pictured here with her dog, Tinker, said the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on her. The isolation, including not receiving any visitors on Mother’s Day, has left her feeling depressed at times. She was able to laugh about the idea of a coronavirus doll that she could punch when she feels angry or depressed during a Herald interview. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Several local older Americans appear to handle the shutdown and social isolation caused by the coronavirus without too much stress. Perhaps, it is a long life filled with ups and downs that provides a unique perspective on the new norm and safety precautions.

Retired social worker Helen Mertz said she fills her days with reading, quilting, latch hook work, walking at Bear River State Park, emailing friends and taking a Zoom stress management class from BOCES. She said she still attends her book club on Zoom and recently viewed the Soroptomist Lunafest on Zoom.

Mertz met a friend at Hamblin Park recently for a picnic, where both wore masks and sat 6 feet away from each other.

“The wind blew the virus away anyway,” Mertz said with a laugh.

Mertz is 69 years old and retired from the Wyoming State Hospital after 32 years of service. She and her late husband moved to Evanston in 1983 and both were employed at the WSH. Mertz said she usually goes to Oregon to visit her two sons in late April or May but had to cancel the trip this year. One of her sons was to be married in June but has now postponed the wedding until July of 2021.

“The most frustrating thing for me is not being able to go anywhere and not seeing my sons,” she said. “I think older people handle the stress of the pandemic better due to their experiences in life; they have learned to roll with things. They know it will end at some point. I take reasonable precautions but I’m not afraid.”

Being 82 years old hasn’t slowed Kay Rossiter down at all. Rossiter, director of the Uinta County Museum, still works full-time, has a home business and volunteers as the director for the local food bank, the Lord’s Storehouse.

Rossiter said the most stressful thing about the pandemic is how other people are reacting, including her own children who she said “hate the whole thing and are fearful.” Rossiter said she had plans to travel this summer but those have been put on hold. She uses Facebook for social contact.

“I’m physically and mentally healthy and active and am not concerned,” Rossiter said. “I practice social distancing, use sanitizer and don’t take risks. We know so little about how this virus travels, but I am not a [germophobe.] I don’t wear a mask, but I use common sense and reason and work to build my own immunity. However, I don’t work at a hospital and the museum is closed even though I still work every day.”

Rossiter said she thinks Uinta County has been lucky with so few cases of the virus being confirmed here. She is pleased with the community’s response to helping others and meeting the needs of the food bank.

Rand Newiger is 65 years old. He was laid off from construction work in Park City due to the coronavirus pandemic. He has been spending his time doing volunteer work for the museum, where his wife, Mary Walberg, is the curator. He also volunteers at the local Eagles club doing some construction projects.

“Though I lost paid construction work, the time off has allowed me to be able to work on my music studio and take some online web courses,” Newiger said. “At my age, I am trying to get away from construction work and start a new career. There is the stress of less money, but I’m enjoying the time off and Mary has been cooking more and I’ve found out that she is an excellent cook.”

Newiger said he wears a mask in public places, does not go to bars or restaurants and will do more camping this summer where he will still practice social distancing. He said he watches the news to keep abreast of what is happening but limits his exposure to the news when he finds himself getting angry.

“Some in Washington have turned this whole thing into a political battle,” he said. “We need to use common sense and pay attention to the facts. Smart people will find ways to stay smart and safe. A positive outcome of the virus is the earth is experiencing less pollution as evidenced by the picture of the planet on the web. If that isn’t proof of how we humans pollute, then I don’t know what is.”

Seventy-two-year-old Barb Hager lives with her little dog, Tinker, in The Homestead apartments in Evanston. Hager admits that she is having a hard time with social isolation.

“The most stressful part for me is staying home all the time as the senior center is closed,” she said. “I have a hard time trying to find something to do. I have been cleaning out my closet. No one came to visit me on Mother’s Day, and that was depressing. I have no computer and the only contact with others is my phone.”

Hager said she has her days and nights mixed up now and just sleeps a lot. She watches TV for company and said she watches the news too much and it makes her sad. She has a daughter who lives in Bridger Valley and works at City Drug in Benedict’s. Hager said her daughter worries about her and doesn’t want her to go out and be exposed to anyone due to a heart condition.

“The only thing positive will be when they find a cure or vaccine for this virus,” Hager said. “I feel so bad for the little children who are sick and dying from this. I just want things to get back to normal, but is there such a thing as normal anymore?”

Hager found humor in a story about her mother-in-law, who use to make a “damnit doll” to punch every time she was angry. “Maybe I should make a coronavirus doll,” Hager said with a laugh.

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