6 months of COVID-19: Adapting day to day

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper High School seniors Grace Kizior, right, Kara Krueger, Grace Helming and Sydney Waddell observe the national anthem before the football game in Jasper on Friday. Helming said she is now used to wearing masks at school and sporting events. “It’s just normal at this point,” she said.


Six long months.

Daily life has fractured since state officials reported Indiana’s first case of COVID-19 on March 6. Routines were disrupted. Social interactions were forced to change. Shopping, schooling, going out to eat — it’s all different now.

But the world has not stopped. Local health officials report that the majority of residents are wearing facial coverings and practicing social distancing in public, and today, as Dubois County’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reaches 895, area citizens continue to adapt to life in a global pandemic.

“In my mind, yes, it does seem surreal,” said Dr. Ted Wafflart, Dubois County's public health officer, while reflecting on the past half year. “In fact, I was actually thinking about that today. How just life is so different than it was.”

Dubois County’s first confirmed novel coronavirus diagnosis came on March 22. More cases trickled in during the next two months, and the county recorded its 100th case in a jump in cases reported on May 17. Shawn Werner, administrative director of the Dubois County Health Department, explained that the county’s numbers dropped and leveled out after that for “quite a while,” but saw a second big peak in early July.

See a COVID-19 timeline here

Later in July, Dubois County was classified as No. 1 in the state for the number of cases per capita detected as positive in a seven-day period — making the county a hot spot for the virus. It held that mark for two or three weeks, Werner said, but now, those numbers are dropping and stabilizing.

“Positivity rate is going down, cases are going down,” Werner said in a Friday phone interview. “So, we look for this to hopefully continue. But anybody’s guess is as good as ours. All it takes is a couple get-togethers, parties [or] mass gatherings where it starts spreading again, and then we start going back up. So, that’s what we want to try to avoid.”

Waflart spoke of how the surreal feeling he described earlier in this story is directly tied to how long the pandemic has dragged on. A month or two into it, everything still seemed pretty normal to most of us, he said, but the longer we lived through it, the more we began to get the sense that things aren’t right.

Sue Polen of Huntingburg receives communion from Father Biju Thomas during Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Huntingburg on Thursday. The church has made many adjustments to Mass, including receiving communion in the pews rather than parishioners coming forward and forming a line. "We're adapting to a new situation, a new normal," said Fr. Thomas. "In the beginning, it was difficult but now with the situation, we're learning every day a new way of doing it."

Now, most people are still going about many of their regular activities — just in modified ways. They’re still going to stores and restaurants, but with masks on their faces and while social distancing from others.

“It’s not like life’s at a standstill right now,” Waflart explained. “So, I feel like we are moving forward, coming back, socializing and all. But we’re taking all these extra precautions. I feel like if people continue to take these precautions, it’ll just get better over a period of time, and hopefully a vaccine will be developed within a few months. And that might put an end to all of it then. Hopefully.”

Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide also believes that most residents are heeding the advice of medical professionals, and that this has allowed them to mitigate the risks that now come with social interaction.

“I think people have adapted and adopted the face masks, and the social distancing, and the sanitization of the hands, I think those people are seeing that they can still negotiate through the retail structures that we have,” Vonderheide said of Jasper residents. “Everybody’s going to the store for food and supplies. But they can do it safely, and they can do it with much less risk than what originally they were doing.”

He continued: “So, I think the adaptation of businesses by providing delivery services or pickup services, those kind of things, those are great things. And how we end up doing business in the future, I think, is going to change because of those adaptations.”

Working remotely has become common during the COVID-19 crisis, and Vonderheide expects that to continue into the future, too. He envisions the road ahead being a lengthy one. The winter months will be trying, he said, because the cold and gray skies can lead to depressing months.

“But outdoor activities, I’ve seen more people out walking the trails and riding bicycles and doing things that you didn’t see before,” the mayor said. “I don’t think that’ll go away. I think people will be out and about all year round now. I think people are going to look for those opportunities to do something. But do it in a safe environment, a safe way.”

To date, 17 Dubois County residents have died from COVID-19 and 774 have recovered from the virus. Laura Wendholt of Jasper is listed as one of those recoveries. But even now, months after her diagnosis in April, Wendholt, 36, still suffers from lingering symptoms that she attributes to her bout with the virus.

She has been told that her brain fog and forgetfulness is a normal after-effect. Still, those hindrances weren’t with her before COVID-19 brought her to a sedentary haze in her Jasper bedroom all that time ago — and dealing with them now drives her crazy.

Her fatigue hasn’t improved much since The Herald profiled her in mid-May. If Wendholt overextends one day, she’ll pay for it the next few, she said. Sometimes, when she has a day off from her job as a pharmacy technician, she’ll end up sleeping for hours during the day.

She knows that many who test positive for the virus only have a headache for a day, and she said that they are lucky. Aside from having a couple of autoimmune conditions that doctors said shouldn’t have put her at a higher risk of complications, Wendholt was in good physical health before falling ill.

She takes her life day by day. Thursday, she said she feels that she is slowly recovering.

“But it’s still not the old me,” she said. “I still can’t work 40 hours like I used to … and I even have trouble even just doing everyday tasks even at home, keeping up with everything. And that’s driving me crazy. Because, I mean, that’s not me.”

All sources interviewed for this story urged readers to take the coronavirus seriously.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported Friday 1,282 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 103,505 cases. A total of 3,196 Hoosiers have died from the virus. Another 224 probable deaths have been reported.

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