The highly contagious pandemic is keeping the socially active island at home.
As the coronavirus changes daily life, social distancing gets more and more important.
On Longboat Key, where residents get together for club meetings, condo parties and activities, philanthropic events, sporting and fitness activities and more, the effects of social distancing can be magnified. Loneliness looms as a hit to mental health, experts say.
“I’m trying to stay positive, and every day I think of the way my life was before this,” Longboat Key resident Bunny Skirboll said, who now thinks of life as B.C. (before coronavirus) versus the present day. “I do get depressed when I go to my closet and think, ‘When am I going to get to wear my clothes again?’ ”
JFCS director of senior services Pamela Baron has been concerned about the disruption to routines.
“This is just a big loss in terms of daily routine and they're really feeling that,” Baron said. “It's impacting a lot of people in different ways.”
Baron shared an email from a 95-year-old volunteer who lives in Sarasota Bay Club, where all residents are now eating in their apartments and activities have been canceled.
“Social situations are so important to seniors, especially a single one like me, but I am working on it, doing a bit of writing, cleaning out the closet, talking on the phone to family and friends,” the email said. “I know that I am no different than anyone else in the world in this dilemma, but let's all be positive and we will get through this horrible time.”
Longboat Key resident Marcia Gregg is trying to stay active by getting on her yoga mat every day, stay informed as a self-proclaimed news junkie and stay less anxious.
“I’m very busy and content for the most part, but I’m getting a little anxious,” Gregg said when she came into the Paradise Center on March 19.
Even while distancing, there are ways to manage loneliness.
The stress of a global pandemic calls for more outlets to burn off that stress, like exercise. The Paradise Center kept its weekly classes going for as long as possible but shut down on Sunday.
“We need to burn off some stress, don’t you think?” Paradise Center executive director Suzy Brenner said to her handful of Zumba students on March 19, which turned out to be the center's last in-person class for a while.
Brenner will post classes from her living room on the center’s Facebook page to encourage everyone to keep active.
“It was nice to see other people,” Wendy Gould said after class.
However, in lieu of meeting in person, Brenner and the Paradise Center’s executive assistant, Mary Ann Brady, are reaching out to their regulars.
“Longboat Key is a pretty tight-knit community,” Brenner said. “We want to make sure they’re not abandoned.”
Other organizations on the island are creating their own networks of virtual check-ups. At Temple Beth Israel, a pool of volunteers makes up the Mitzvah Squad. These people regularly call each of the temple’s members to ask about their well-being. JFCS has organized a similar list.
“We're just making sure that we regularly call people just to ask them how they're doing and try and support them,” Baron said. “We're making an effort to make sure that everybody gets called. For some, it's going to be a check-in call. But for other people, it's going to be a longer call.”
The Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, along with the public safety departments, Rotary Club and Kiwanis, are devising a network to help residents. The volunteer force will go grocery shopping, pick up prescriptions and do anything else needed by residents who don't feel safe leaving their homes. Email [email protected] to join.
Staying on track
Many recommend sticking to a somewhat normal schedule.
“Act like it’s a normal day,” Brenner said. “Get out of bed, make your bed, put on clothes.”
Calling and staying in touch with people as much as possible is a clear-cut way to stave off loneliness, and Baron suggested families and friends set up a phone tree.
"Make sure that you call, and notice the tone in the voice," Baron said. "If you notice that they're not getting up and they're not caring about their appearance or their hygiene and they're not talking about eating, or anything like that, you're going to want to make sure they don't fall into a depression."
However tough it may be, make sure to discuss lighter things.
“End the conversation on a positive note,” Brenner said.
A friend called Skirboll on Saturday, but missed her as she was out walking. The friend joked that Skirboll must be out getting her hair and nails done, ready for the next big gala, which Skirboll said was funny, though a bit sad.
“The bottom line is we have to have humor in our lives and keep trying to laugh even though it’s not a laughing matter,” Skirboll said. “Everybody is circulating these wonderful emails and talking about what we’re going to look like when we don’t get our hair and nails done.”