• Jeff Schober

How COVID-19 is changing our world

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

Sunday, March 22, 2020: Driveway art along Woodview Avenue in Hamburg, discovered during a neighborhood walk.

Author’s note: We had a story cued up for this month about Wings Flights of Hope Inc. and the wonderful work they do flying patients to and from medical appointments. But then the Coronavirus struck, and like so much else, publishing it didn’t seem right. In fact, publishing anything feels questionable. COVID-19 has taken over our lives. Businesses are closed, schools are shuttered, people are isolated, many are sick, and everyone is scared. Our mission at Buffalo Tales is to tell interesting stories about the great people of Western New York. But in these rapidly changing times, feature stories seem less important than daily updates. Steve Desmond and I put our heads together. How could we shine a light on the virus’ effect on people? Are there any unexpected bright spots? Amid this challenge, might we remind others of our shared humanity and offer tiny windows of hope? We’re trying, while aiming for the proper tone. And we’re working at half capacity, since Steve’s marvelous photographic talents aren’t on display here. I wasn’t comfortable asking my friend to go out on assignment. I don’t want to put him or his family at risk. Everyone mentioned in the story was interviewed by phone, and all were kind enough to share photos. Make no mistake: missing out on Steve’s talents hurts because this story would be enhanced by his images. But we’re going to forge ahead. It’s important to keep some sense of normalcy. Next month, look for a long feature commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. And we can’t wait for you to read the inspiring tale of Wings Flights of Hope, which will be published down the road. Stay tuned, stay safe, and be well. —Jeff Schober __________________________________________________________________________________

Nick Duchscherer coaching Theresa H. in a training session. Photo courtesy of Nick Duchscherer

On Monday afternoon last week, Nick Duchscherer was training clients when he learned the news that New York State was closing all gyms in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Like so many others, his business came to an abrupt and dramatic halt. Duchscherer, 33, owner and founder of Absolute Fitness & Wellness, has felt the effects in only a few days. “We’ve got 12 staff members who can’t work now, and 150 clients who aren’t being serviced,” Duchscherer said. “It’s tough to go from operating as normal on Monday to being totally frozen that night. We’re trying to focus on staying positive.” The world changed quickly this month. In December, Americans learned about the Coronavirus and its effect on other parts of the world. For most, it had the distance and safety of any news story happening on the far side of the globe. However, with the jolt of a lightning strike, life around Western New York shifted to a new reality once the virus spread to the United States. Businesses mandated that their employees stay home; colleges and public schools shut down; sporting events, concerts, and gatherings of more than 50 people were cancelled. The changes have left many scrambling to make sense of it all. Business owners struggle to service their customers while wondering how to make payroll. Some, working from home, haven’t felt the pinch as severely. Still others have resolved that the forced shutdown is an opportunity for service. Streaming Life “The last week has felt like a month,” said Melissa Whaley, owner of The Barre Studio, with locations in Hamburg and Buffalo’s West Side. After closing last Monday, she was offering an option by Wednesday to stream new classes online each day. “In normal times, that would sound fast, but it felt like two weeks passed. It’s been interesting going from brick-and-mortar to virtual. I’m fortunate that I have a warm audience and wonderful following, so it was relatively easy for me to translate that into virtual space.” An Ellicottville resident, Whaley, 43, had already been sharing classes to Vimeo. She added a daily Instagram feed because it provided a social structure.

Melissa Whaley, owner of The Barre Studio. © photo by Lindsey Robinson

“I’m making it work,” she said. “It’s not my specialty and I don’t want it to be. It is not lost on me how lucky I am that people know me and they know the work we do. Our studio provides a sense of home for them.” During an average week, her team of eight instructors teaches 30 classes to approximately 300 clients. With the online option, those numbers have dropped, but there is more at stake than simply keeping the business going. “The studio is partly about a workout, but also about community,” Whaley said. “It’s a bright spot in people’s day, and I’m happy about that. There is a strong sense of community, which I draw upon daily. It’s humbling.” Duchscherer, of Orchard Park, has encouraged his employees at Absolute Fitness to use their forced free time to enroll in online courses that might sharpen their skills. Like Whaley, he is offering a distance training option. He does not want clients to lose the gains they have worked hard to achieve. With a doctorate in Physical Therapy, Duchscherer also works for UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Orchard Park. Changes have been rapid there as well. “We’ve switched to 90 percent telemedicine, which is something I never thought I’d be doing,” he said. “We’re doing physical therapy evaluations and treatments over the phone and with FaceTime. It’s not what we were trained to do. We like to get our hands on people, to see their joints move, and feel things. But it can be done.” Sometimes it requires a client to position the phone’s screen, then step back to perform a squat or an arm raise while the physical therapist observes. “It’s forced us to get more creative in how we assess,” Duchscherer noted. “It might change how we administer PT in the future.” Working from Home The situation is different for Andrew Adolf, 28, of Depew. Living alone, he has been able to work from a home office for his job as portfolio manager at Arbor, a financial mortgage service company with an office in Depew. After the first of the year, before anyone worried about the Coronavirus, Arbor began a transition to allow some employees to work from home.

Andrew Adolf and his dog, Jameson. Photo courtesy of Andrew Adolf

“We had a pilot program that tested us working remotely,” Adolf said. “We had already smoothed out the bugs. It set us up perfectly for the situation we’re in. I’m still working on my laptop, which is fortunate and better than a lot of people I know.” Adolf was in the office as recently as last Thursday before being sent home and instructed to meet annual deadlines by March 31. Last weekend, he stocked up on groceries, and is spending quiet time bonding with his new dog, Jameson, a seven-month-old Irish Doodle. “I’ve gone on three walks a day with my dog,” he said. “It’s interesting. I see the severity of what’s happening but I don’t want to adhere to panic. I don’t want to overexpose myself, but because I live alone, it doesn’t feel like my life has changed too much.” He has visited family, and misses playing regular hockey games with friends. On the plus side, Adolf said that forced isolation means he’s spending less money. Adolf was moved by a poem he discovered online, featuring encouraging words written in the style of Dr. Suess. “It stood out to me, and I’ve been re-reading it every day,” he said.

Colorful Masks As a teacher at Frontier High School, Sue Haefner left work last Monday knowing the soonest she could return is April 20, five weeks away. Officials have cautioned that date may be pushed back further. Haefner, 61, is part of the Southtowns Piecemakers Quilt Guild, a sewing group centered in East Aurora. Several members began sewing fabric masks to fit over the N95 masks that health care professionals wear to keep themselves safe. “With the different colors and patterns, our masks make the N95 masks less threatening to kids,” Haefner said. “The ones I’m making for medical personnel won’t protect against the virus, but they do extend the use of N95 masks. It’s also good to have extra masks to give to people who may be coughing or sneezing.”

Masks sewn by Sue Haefner. Smaller masks are for children to use. Photo courtesy of Sue Haefner

Each day, Haefner provides lessons for her students, then sews. Over four days, she has sewn approximately 25 masks, in both adult and pediatric sizes. Made of cotton and elastic, the masks can be washed and reused. She is struggling now to find 1/4-inch elastic, which is scarce. After reading about volunteers who sewed masks, Haefner contacted her daughter, Kc Tourville, the business manager of Pediatric & Adolescent Urgent Care of WNY, with offices in Orchard Park, Williamsville, and Rochester. In this unprecedented time, Tourville assured her mother that doctors would happily accept anything they could get. “I put out the word to quilt guild members,” Haefner said. “Many of them had already been making masks for Roswell Park and nursing homes. Everything gelled together over the weekend.” Earlier this week, Haefner’s husband, Pat, left a batch of masks in the drop box at Pediatric Urgent Care. It is a process that will be repeated every few days. “You put the call out, and people respond,” Haefner reflected. “We have such a great community.” The Human Touch With everyone at home, Duchscherer and his wife, Jessica, have used their time together in unexpected ways. “We did a puzzle the other night for the first time in our relationship, and we’ve been together since 2004,” he said. “After we put the kids to bed, we assembled a 200-piece Madagascar puzzle.” Their three children, ages 3, 2, and 6 months, are too young to understand the crisis. “They haven’t really caught on yet that nobody is leaving the house,” he said. “They’re doing their normal stuff, playing and being little ones. The worst part is that my daughter is turning 4 in April and her birthday party at Rolly Pollies was cancelled. She won’t stop talking about her friends going there to play with her. I haven’t broken the news to her yet. We’ll have to tell her the workers there got sick and reschedule for the summer.” For Haefner, being separated from her grandchildren is difficult. “I miss the hugs and the physical contact with them,” she said. “But my husband and I are an age where we have to social distance. My granddaughter calls before bed each night and reads me books.”

Melissa Whaley stretching at The Barre Studio in Buffalo. Photo courtesy of Melissa Whaley

Like Duchscherer, Whaley wonders about her business if the crisis lasts too long. She insists that everyone needs to do their part to help minimize the virus’ spread. “I come from a privileged place of being a fit and healthy person,” she said. “I’m not concerned about catching this and dying, but rather about people I love getting sick or compromised. I realize everyone has a different angle on that. I’m also concerned about the economy as a business owner. For many reasons, I hope everybody can please stay at home and follow the rules to help bring this to an end.” © 2020 by Jeff Schober

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