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Community conversations: Living through the pandemic

ajc.com

People across the county and in Dayton are trying to find their way through the many challenges and changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a panel discussion streamed live Thursday on the Dayton Daily News Facebook page, Dayton community leaders from the government, education, business and health sectors discussed working and living in the midst of the pandemic — and how to stay safe in the process.

“We’ve been encouraging people to have a look at their surroundings, think about what they’re seeing there, and then make some decisions,” said Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County Medical Director Dr. Michael Dohn.

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Panelists included Dohn, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Dayton Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Chris Kershner, Entrepreneurs Marketplace owner Tae Winston, Mad River Schools Superintendent Chad Wyen, co-owner of Young’s Jersey Dairy and former Ohio Restaurant Association President Dan Young, and Dayton Daily News health reporter Kaitlin Schroeder.

Amelia Robinson, community impact editor at the Dayton Daily News, led the hour-long discussion involving masks, the economy and school reopenings.

Though masks have become “a political flash point,” as Whaley put it, government, business and health panelists all agreed that masks were an important part of keeping the community safe and lauded the mask mandates that are in place now.

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Dayton was the first city in Ohio to institute a mask mandate and since then, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has instituted a mask mandate in counties that reach higher levels of cases dubbed a “Level 3.”

There’s a normalization process for new behavior, Dohn said, and masks are no exception.

“The more people that do it, then the more people will do it,” he said.

Whaley agreed.

“That’s what these mandates are about,” she said. “They’re about setting cultural norms.”

However, some panelists said the county-level mask mandate isn’t enough and voiced support for a statewide mandate.

“Viruses, they don’t see county borders,” Kershner said. “The virus doesn’t start in one county, in Miami County, and stop at the border in Montgomery County because there’s a mandate. Those viruses transcend borders and impact individuals, and the entire region and entire state and entire country. We’ve seen that.”

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Winston and Young, both business owners, said the mandates make it easier for businesses to keep customers and employees safe.

“At first people were upset — ‘Hey, why do I have to wear a mask?’” Winston said. “But now that it’s mandated, people know to expect that they have to wear one.”

Young said that although mask mandates can cause friction, they ultimately make more people feel comfortable, which helps boost business.

Dohn recommended first checking in with a manager if you see people who are not wearing a mask or following guidelines at a business. Contact the health department if there is not a positive reaction. He said the health department is not seeking punishment, but compliance.

Masks are not only about being a good citizen, but also about helping to boost the economy, Whaley and others noted.

“The last thing we need to happen is to go backward and close our businesses again. Our businesses got devastated this past spring when they were closed,” Kershner said.

Kershner and Whaley said they believed Dayton’s economy will be able to rebound after the pandemic and that as Dayton’s economy has become more diversified, it stands a better chance.

Making sure consumers feel safe is an important part of boosting economic activity, panelists said.

As for businesses, masks will be an important part of schools’ ability to open and stay open, Wyen said.

The Mad River School District will mandate masks and also will have an option for remote learning for families who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school, he said.

“We’ve taken a lot of proactive actions in order to open our doors safely and keep them open, which is our ultimate goal,” he said.

Several panelists with children — including Kershner, Winston and Wyen — said they plan to send their children back to school and would not do so if they didn’t trust school administrators to make the right decisions to keep students and teachers safe.

Whaley said that it is not “if, but when,” there is a case of COVID-19 in a school and that community members should be flexible as things change.

There’s a process in place for anyone who suspects they might have COVID-19 in the school district, Wyen said, including a quarantine room for anyone who begins to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 while at school.

“I just want to hope that parents and community members will give school boards and superintendents some grace through this. I think this is going to be very difficult and I think that things are going to change,” Whaley said.

The panelists closed with noting the importance of flexibility for everyone during the pandemic as the situation changes continuously.

“I’ve experienced and others experienced almost this grieving process through COVID and sometimes it’s a day where you just want to go back to how it was — I think that that is very normal and I remind myself that it is very normal,” Whaley said. “But we have to continue to move forward to get to the other side of it.”

Whaley said it’s also important to realize that life may look different on the other side of the pandemic, but that all in all, she has been “in awe of the human spirit” during this time.

Young said this period of uncertainty has been difficult, but noted the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, imploring everyone to do their part.

“Not to sound like a hashtag, but we’re all in this together,” Young said.

The full panel discussion is available on the Dayton Daily News Facebook page.