Honoring the Heroes In Our Midst
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
Dr. Melissa Pezza
Melissa Pezza is a dentist in Providence, RI. where the number of covid-19 cases has dramatically increased. Melissa stopped working from March, 2020 to August, 2020. That was such an uncertain time. We had no idea how the virus was spreading, and initially had no guidance from the Health Department. She’s now back to work, and so appreciative for all those who carried on while she took a break! She and the office staff wear full PPE, and follow covid-19 protocol. The office allows a few patients in at a time. They must be wearing masks to enter. The patients fill out a questionnaire and get a temperature check. There are more stresses. It isn’t easy, but they’re getting by. Before the dental work begins, the patients are instructed to rinse with a hydrogen peroxide solution. When Melissa is working on patients they have their masks off, which is stressful in and of itself. She’s looking forward to being able to practice dentistry wearing a surgical mask, gloves, gown and shield without the need to wear N-95 masks. Knowing that she’s helping people keeps her going. She fears that the extra precautions will be in place until the end of 2021. The ongoing vaccination program gives Melissa hope. At home there’s the extra stress of worrying about her children, her mom, and other family members. To unwind and relax, Melissa likes to read, watch TV, spend time with her children, play tennis, exercise and take walks in nature. She’s just going on day to day.
Dr. Herb Aronow
Dr. Herb Aronow is an Interventional Cardiologist, who works at Lifespan’s R.I. and Miriam Hospitals. He is the Director of Interventional Cardiology for their Cardiovascular Institute and Director of the Catheterization Labs at both hospitals. Beginning in late February to early March everyone at the hospitals came together and worked together. There were many meetings during which they discussed a broad range of topics such as the safety of patients and staff, PPE, and even proper ventilation and HVAC systems. They discussed the pros and cons of performing certain cardiovascular procedures like elective heart stents as per usual or deferring them until later. They talked about what to do if a patient was sick with Covid-19. They developed new protocols. They learned to do things differently, and in some cases found the new approaches to be better. Adhering to the new protocols has presented challenges. Wearing PPE, including a mask and shield can impact one’s ability to see and hear clearly. Early on Herb and his colleagues had to continually adjust as the situation changed and new information became available. Herb says that they’ve learned a lot, and are now much better prepared during this second pandemic wave. Very few of his local colleagues became sick with Covid-19. Unfortunately, some from elsewhere around the country did and became very ill. When the level of Covid-19 in the community rose significantly, Herb’s practice converted many office visits to telehealth; only those with the most urgent cardiovascular needs were seen face-to-face in his office. Likewise, elective procedures were postponed. Fortunately, now he’s back to seeing most patients in the office, and he’s been able to resume elective procedures. For those who do come to the hospital, it can be a lonely time, since visitors are not allowed. But, around the world, because of fear of contracting Covid-19, many people, who should have come to the hospital while having a heart attack or a stroke didn’t, so avoided care. They became sicker and some even died. This wouldn’t have happened had they dared to come in as we were ready to treat them while, at the same time, protecting them from infection with SARS-CoV-2. Most medical meetings are now virtual. Interestingly, there’s better attendance, since people don’t have to travel in order to attend, and it’s easier to juggle meetings with patient appointments. Of course, this is balanced by a loss of intimacy. You can’t shake hands with people and the social isolation is difficult for many. We’re social beings after all. Everyone recognizes that the isolation from family and friends is hard, but even the isolation from coworkers is difficult. There’s something about being in a room together, which isn’t attainable via Zoom. When asked what makes him go on, Herb answered that he knows he plays a vital role for his critically ill patients. He’s able to intervene and save a life. As the weather gets better, the numbers will go down. Vaccine distribution is increasing, and the number of deaths is decreasing. These facts give Herb hope that virus might fade away! The pandemic has caused Herb to spend more time at home. He’s experiencing good family time. Herb says that it’s a good thing that he and his wife love each other, given how much more time they’re spending together. They go for walks with the dog. His dog loves having him around. To keep balanced, they both exercise at home, which includes riding the exercise bike, treadmill running, rowing and lifting weights. They watch movies together, and in nice weather enjoy the outdoors.
Adam Smith is Funeral Director at Shalom Memorial Chapel, the only independent Jewish funeral home in Rhode Island. When asked what the reality of the pandemic meant to him, he said, “it was heartbreaking”, and that he doesn’t want anyone to die before their time. This disease is taking many individuals much too early. When asked about some difficulties he’s faced during Covid-19, he stated that at first the Health Department forgot to view morticians as front-line workers, so Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was hard to come by. Eventually, the health department fixed the oversight, and funeral homes were added to the list of groups allowed to buy PPE. Adam is a member of the Rhode Island Funeral Directors Association Disaster Preparedness Committee. The members have had several meetings and talks about steps necessary to cope with the uptick of Covid-19 deaths. One of the most difficult discussions for Adam was early on, back in March of 2020, when the committee was asked by the Rhode Island Department of Health to address a worst-case-scenario situation, and come up with ideas of where to store the decedents in a respectful and practical manner. The hardest part of this for him has been the very real grief when someone is taken too early, or when an elderly person in a Nursing Home dies and the family members hadn’t been able to visit or be present when their loved one passed. Despite all that’s going on, Adam is encouraged when he sees families emotionally come together. They help each other out. Adam loves his work, and says that if he weren’t doing this, he doesn’t know what else he would do. He likes helping people. However, he’s found it difficult to find a good balance between work and family, never knowing when the cell phone might ring night or day. At Shalom Memorial Chapel, they personalize each funeral. Every person is different, and thus people have different expectations on how things should go. Because of Covid-19 and the limits the Health Department has put on the number of people allowed to congregate to grieve together, many of the funerals, if the family want it, are now conducted via Zoom at no extra charge. Also, the ceremony is recorded, and there’s a link so those, unable to attend, can view the funeral. Adam says that the wonderful support of his family keeps him going, also he’s very heartened that the community is trusting Shalom Memorial Chapel to do the right thing for their loved ones. He likes interacting with the families, and he likes hearing their stories. Sometimes these are stories that they’ve never shared with anyone else. Some families of the deceased keep in touch, and let him know when a new baby is born, and keep him up to date on family events. Adam finds hope in the rolling out of the vaccine. One of the lessons he’s learned during the challenges of the pandemic, and through over 20 years of being a funeral director is that it’s important for people to plan for the future, but also to live in the moment. One ought to focus on family and friends and live in the now. Adam enjoys spending time with his family. He has meaningful discussions with his wife, Andrea Allgood (a Hebrew School teacher at Temple Torat Yisrael), and his 17 year old son, who is learning to drive. Adam also relaxes while playing with his 4 year old as they make puzzles together, and spend time reading. Adam also likes Zooming the Friday night Shabbat services, and seeing everyone there as well being part of the Jewish community.
Rachel is a psychotherapist, who is seeing her patients remotely. She reports that she and her family are fine. Rachel says that using telehealth took some getting used to, but overall has been grateful for the opportunity to work remotely. Since she’s working remotely, she doesn’t feel like she’s on the frontline. Rachel hopes that the pandemic will help to open people’s eyes and stimulate dialogue about such topics as: access to paid sick leave and healthcare; systemic racism and structural inequality; and the critical need to protect renters from eviction and workers from unemployment. The pandemic has caused many of the same stresses on the home front, which have been typical for families. Examples are everyone home at the same time trying to work and not disrupt each other, and enduring the sameness of every week. In many ways the pandemic has been hardest on the kids. Her youngest son has really missed socializing with friends, being in school, performing music with others, and time with grandparents and cousins. The oldest son has taken a break from college, since all classes were virtual. He’s since moved to VT while he decides on next steps. When asked about a light at the end of the tunnel, Rachel mentioned the vaccine. She’s worried about her mom, and hopes that she will get the vaccine soon. Rachel strongly believes that in RI the people in the Health Department have good heads on their shoulders, and are doing the best they can to deal with the difficult job of vaccine distribution. Rachel is looking forward to the longer days and milder weather of spring, when we can be more engaged with people outside. Rachel says, “ no matter what’s going on, the days will get longer and we’ll all feel better!”
Dr. Aaron Salinger
Dr. Aaron Salinger Is a chiropractor on the east side of Providence. When the pandemic hit in the middle of March, patients were understandably quite nervous about continuing care, as everyone was trying to social distance as much as possible. Although he contemplated it, he did not shut down his practice at any point. While a majority of the patients cancelled their appointments, those who did continue, expressed gratitude for their ongoing treatment. New patients were very limited for several months, but as people started to become more comfortable with this new normal, they started to trickle back, and he has slowly rebuilt his practice. Dr. Aaron’s caseload has currently returned to about 80% of where it had been before the pandemic hit. Being near Brown University, he has historically seen a substantial number of students, which has significantly dropped off as there are fewer students on campus. He and his staff have taken every precaution possible to prevent transmission of the virus, and allow patients to be comfortable while in the office. They are very compliant with the governor’s mask mandate, as well as thoroughly sanitizing all equipment between patients. On a personal level, Dr. Aaron and his wife, Sherrie, greatly miss seeing their friends and family. He has been able to maintain some level of normalcy, as he still goes to work 5 days a week. It has been much tougher on Sherrie, as she is a stay-at-home mom, and has had much more limited opportunities to interact with other adults. When the school year started, Aaron and Sherrie had the option of sending the kids to school in person, or having them learn remotely. They chose to send them in person, as West Greenwich seemed to have a very good plan, and were taking all the safety precautions. They are very happy with their decision, as Nathan and Haley have both thrived. Even though there have been added stressors during the pandemic, Aaron reflects on how blessed he and his family are. They are still able to have a roof over their heads, and food on the table. He feels very lucky that every day after work, he gets to go home and spend time with his family. The silver lining to this ordeal is that, since the start of the pandemic, both his parents and his sister have moved to Rhode Island. When asked about what he misses the most, Aaron’s answer was very simple…HUGS.
Marion Woolf is a social worker in the Pawtucket school system. Last spring, because of covid, the Pawtucket schools closed down and went to virtual learning. In September, four schools reopened to staff and select student populations. At that time, Marion was working out of the middle school two days a week. Her home school is Shea High School. At present 95% of students are experiencing distance learning via Google Meet. Each student was issued a laptop. Some students are back in the classroom. They are the very young and special needs students. From the spring to the present, Marion is only able to reach out to her students either on Google Meet, via cell phone or by email. This has been very challenging! Sometimes the students aren’t home or have misplaced their laptop, so Marion has to reach them on their cell phone. Many of the students are struggling, and falling behind. They need to be in a school environment with a teacher in the room to achieve. The distance learning is not effective for everyone. When Marion reaches out to the students, she often is unable to see their faces, since they don’t join with video. She will ask them, “can you show me your face for just a minute, so I can see to whom I’m speaking.” Sometimes they comply. Because so many students are struggling, there have been several additional referrals to the school psychologist and to her. So, her workload has become much heavier. It’s taking much more time and effort to coordinate services for these youths. Marion is familiar with the students that she had worked with prior to the pandemic, but with the new referrals and new students, she often does not know with whom she’s communicating. Marion’s biggest stress is that it’s hard to fit everyone in because of the heavier case load. She worries about the kids. Several of the children live in crowded housing with several families in one apartment. It’s been tough! The School Department has been working very hard to make the school environment safe. They’ve done a thorough cleaning, and placed Hepa filters into the schools. So during the week of February 1, the select student population will be back to their home school. Marion hopes that being back at Shea High School will make her work more manageable. When it’s time to meet with a student, she can go to the classroom and fetch the child. Meeting them in person will be more effective. She can coordinate plans for each student with the school psychologist. Marion will more easily be able to interact and confer with her colleagues. Marion recently recovered from covid. She was sick for about 2 weeks. She mainly experienced stomach and intestinal issues. Fortunately, she never got so sick that hospitalization became necessary. Marion is looking forward to getting vaccinated. Life has been difficult this past year, as her husband and older son also got sick with covid in July. They, too, were able to recover at home. Since last November, her younger son has been away at Boot Camp. His graduation is coming up. It’s very disappointing that she and her family won’t be able to attend. To keep balanced, Marion exercises following an online video, and she’s been doing a lot of walking. Chatting with colleagues is helpful. She finds it a blessing to have more family time with her husband and older son. Marion is looking forward to getting back to her regular routine, being able to meet with extended family, and being able to go out! She’s used to going places and doing things such as going to the theatre, and attending PC basketball games. Marion is grateful that they all have jobs, and have been able to work throughout the pandemic, albeit virtually.
Dr. Dan Binder
Dr. Dan Binder is a Veterinary Ophthalmologist at Eye Care for Animals in Warwick, RI. This is a unique specialty. There is only one other practicing Veterinary Ophthalmologist in the state. Since March, and to the present time, the practice is not allowing owners into the office. The office has set up a Curbside Practice, which has been very challenging. The owner brings the pet to the building and the staff bring the animal inside for examination and/or treatment. Dan and his colleagues have been extremely busy this past year, which is also true for all veterinary practices in the state. He’s not sure about what has caused this uptick. It could be “pandemic puppy syndrome”, or, because people are at home more, they’re more aware of their pet’s needs. There are a myriad possibilities. On an average Friday, when the office see’s “patients” all day, they service 50 to 60 pets. All the intake information is taken over the phone. This new way of doing business is more time consuming. Because the phone rings continuously, the office has hired two additional receptionists. If a pet needs elective treatment, they may have to wait up to a month for an appointment, but if there’s an emergency, the pet is seen that day. The office always makes plans for emergency challenges. Dan and his colleagues genuinely want to give exemplary service and care. The owners are often stressed. Dan and his staff try to be welcoming and are used to giving comfort and detailed information about the pet’s diagnosis and treatment options. At present that’s more difficult, since the owners are not allowed into the office. It’s so hard to calm a stressed owner, when they can’t see your facial expressions and body language. Dan has seen most of his clients for years. If a three year old dog requires cataract surgery, the owner will bring the pet back every year for a check-up. Dan is looking forward to being able to allow people back into the building. The owners get upset when they can’t come in with their pet. He has to explain that they’re being very cautious. Neither he nor his staff have gotten sick with covid, so have been able to service 100’s of pets. If any of the staff were to get sick with the virus, they’d have to close down, at least for a while.
Dr. Aaron Weisbord
Dr. Aaron Weisbord is a Cardiologist. With the advent of Covid 19 last March, he totally shut down his office for a few weeks. At that time he only saw emergency cases in person. When he returned to work, he interacted with his patients via Telehealth. After setting up his office, adhering to corona guidelines, his office reopened. Presently he uses Telehealth for the 5% of patients, who are not comfortable coming into the office. Aaron sees his heart patients at South County Hospital. Some of the patients have covid. It’s hard. The patients can’t see family. They are desperately alone. They stay in touch via phone, Facetime and/or Zoom. Those with dementia don’t understand what’s going on. There’s increased stress. At first Aaron was concerned about bringing covid home. Now he’s been vaccinated. The stress and anxiety, that accompanies the fear of getting sick or being sick from the virus, can adversely affect a patient’s health. It can cause an increase in blood pressure and other adverse effects. Oftentimes the patient has difficulty distinguishing between illness and anxiety symptoms. Aaron hopes that people will be cognizant of their collective responsibility to each other, and heed the plea from the scientific and medical community to wear masks, observe social distancing and wash their hands often. The virus has a myriad of different presentations, and we haven’t yet learned what causes such a difference in the presentation of the disease. As an example, if three people get together and one has covid, one of the three could get the sniffles and the other could die. For the sickest patients it’s a terrible death. Dr. Weisbord feels restored when he is able to help people and address their concerns and anxieties. When he can improve a patient’s outlook, he feels better. He hopes, that when things get back to normal, people will have developed an appreciation for life, and all the things that were lost and missed during the pandemic. To remain balanced, Aaron tries to get outside. For him, work keeps him going, and inspires him to keep going. He has a healthy perspective, and likes helping people. He believes that goodness goes a long way to diminish pain and suffering. One of his mottos is keep going, move forward, we’ll get there!
Dr. Dana Guyer
Dana Guyer is a Palliative Care physician at R.I. Hospital and the Lifespan Cancer Institute. She has found that working during the pandemic has been professionally challenging and stressful. Simple changes, like the full PPE-an N-95 mask and face shield- have negatively affected patient interactions, but there are bigger challenges as well, including the fact that patients are not allowed to have their caregivers with them. This isolates patients from their loved ones, which is both sad and makes having meaningful conversations much harder. It is heart-breaking when a patient’s relative says, “what do you mean I can’t come in”. On a more significant note, the actual work of caring for patients with severe covid disease has been very difficult. As a palliative care physician, Dana has a comfort level and regular interaction with death and dying. But this year has been over the top! She has witnessed many patients dying from Covid, and it feels awful! Dana believes she is doing important work, and in normal times loves her job, but the strain of being a healthcare worker during the pandemic has been overwhelming. At the end of each day, she’s tired both physically and emotionally, but she feels lucky to have great colleagues and friends, who support her during this difficult time. For the most part, Dana’s children are back in school, and are able to play with each other, so they have not been distressed. To keep balanced, Dana enjoys hiking with her family, connecting with friends, and painting her nails for a little sparkly self-care. She gets up early to exercise. The new administration has given her hope, and she feels that the state and local leaders have been clear and compassionate in their pandemic management. Dana is looking forward to having friends over, and being able to have meaningful conversations with colleagues and friends face to face. She’d love to be able to get back to a sense of normalcy! All in all Dana’s family is healthy, and she’s extremely grateful for that!
Dr. Steven C. Katz
Dr. Steven C. Katz is Chairman of the Immuno-Oncology Institute (1X2) at Roger Williams Medical Center, and surgical oncologist on the American Board of Surgery examination committee. At first, last spring, some patients were afraid to come in, which in some cases led to delays in care. Increasingly, patients and family members are gaining comfort with seeking care and treatment in the current environment. Steven and the entire team at the hospital were very careful about keeping patients and staff members safe, following the guidelines of the Health Department and CDC. Steven and his research team helped with evaluation of a drug typically used as part of cancer immunotherapy, for patients with severe COVID related illness. They reported that the drug, when administered to severely ill COVID patients, lowered the mortality rate substantially from the typical experience at that time. This study has been published in the journal, “Cytokine”. Currently, the team is continuing its exciting cancer research. Their work is focusing on developing new therapies for pancreas and liver cancers. While COVID has made this work challenging at times, the very dedicated team struck a balance between off-site work and enhanced precautions in the lab to ensure continued progress. Steven finds it remarkable that we have very effective vaccines, with several in the pipeline, in under a year. He finds it very encouraging that everyone worked together-scientists, physicians and industry-to allow this to happen. It usually takes over 8 to 10 years to develop a vaccine. Steven wrote an editorial in “Cancer Gene Therapy” entitled, “Silver Linings at the Bench and Bedside” to highlight the incredible value of close collaboration during the COVID crisis, and how society benefits when we find common ground with common cause. Knowing that he’s helping people and saving lives keeps Steven going. As a surgeon, being in the operating room has always come with risk, and the COVID related concerns have not deterred the surgical workforce from carrying out its mission in a safe manner. The hardest part of this past year has been the loss of contact with colleagues, friends and family. There have been no face-to-face scientific meetings, so no meaningful live collaboration with peers. All meetings have been via Zoom, which limits interaction and brings with it a host of its own challenges. Despite this, everyone has found creative ways to bridge the social and professional gaps. To stay grounded, he greatly enjoys spending time with his children aged 7 and 10. They play tennis, ride their bikes, read together, play board games, or enjoy a movie by the fireplace. Steven is an avid reader, and a physical fitness enthusiast. Steven is grateful to have been blessed with wonderful family, great friends and a profession that he finds very meaningful.
Dr. Sarah Levy
Dr. Sarah Levy is an Eye Surgeon, who volunteers at the VA Medical Center and owns a private practice in cosmetic medicine. She does not treat COVID-19 patients, but the pandemic has changed the way that her office functions. After closing down her practice for 10 weeks, she resumed seeing patients and implemented extensive safety protocols intended to keep her team and patients safe. Adjusting her practice to include the most current CDC guidelines, patients must fill out an in-depth screening questionnaire, check-in and check-out from their cars, have temperature checks, wipe their phones, wash their hands and gargle with hydrogen peroxide prior to their treatment. In addition to requiring more time with each patient both at intake and at the end of each visit, the current COVID protocol includes a thorough cleaning of each treatment room between patients and more time in between appointments, so the practice is seeing fewer patients. Sarah purchased air purifiers for every room, installed plexi-glass dividers and expanded the reception area to ensure enough distance between her reception team members. In addition, to keep her team safe, her guest relations staff wears level-3 masks, and the rest of her team wears PPE, protective shields, gloves, and N95 masks. Availability of these supplies is good now, but early on it was often difficult to find the necessary protective and cleaning gear, which caused some stress. With school being partly in-person and partly virtual, like many working parents, Sarah found it challenging to balance the academic and emotional needs of her four children and the responsibility of her work during the day’s working hours. However, one of the benefits brought upon by the pandemic has been a decrease in extracurricular activities, resulting in more family time after work. Prior to the pandemic the children were involved in many activities, and Sarah found herself running all over the place. Now, the family is eating dinner together each night and spending more time with one another. Family has become a priority once again. No one knows what the future will hold, but one thing is certain: life is unpredictable and will always have its challenges. But each struggle brings about new opportunities and silver linings. Sarah’s one piece of advice to remaining grounded and optimistic is to take a few minutes each morning to pause and feel grateful for all the good in this world.
Dr. Stefanie Aronow
Dr. Stefanie Aronow is a Clinical Assistant Professor at The Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University, and a Pediatrician at Waterman Pediatrics in East Providence, RI. Along with seeing patients in the office, Stefanie also sees babies in the newborn nursery at Women and Infants, and she follows her patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. At the beginning of the pandemic, last March, coronavirus was an unknown entity and day to day felt like crisis mode. Taking care of her patients and keeping up with the constantly changing information was extremely challenging! As a physician, people look to you for information and guidance, and expect you to know all of the answers. The physicians and scientists were learning and adapting as they went along. She’s learned so much and is amazed and proud of the scientists and medical providers, who’ve been able to understand this novel virus and provide a vaccine in just under a year. As a physician continuing to care for people, Stefanie and her colleagues had to implement safety measures, under the guidance of the Health Department, to protect the patients and staff. Last spring on top of having to deal with the complexities of Covid-19, Stefanie learned that her dad was terminally ill. She needed to balance the risks of the pandemic with the need to help with his care. He’s still going strong, and she’s grateful that she has been able to help him and her family. Stefanie was fearful that she could infect her dad, her husband and/or their college age children, who had come home to take their classes remotely. It was a very difficult time! It’s been incredibly challenging in all age groups. Families separated, people feeling socially isolated, financial difficulties, changes in work and school, dealing with the illness… everyone has been impacted. Both Stefanie and her husband have been vaccinated now. Their children are back at college. Their son had Covid six weeks after moving into the freshman dorms but luckily did well with it and Hannah remains healthy. To stay balanced Stefanie and her husband have built a gym in their basement. They go for walks with their dog. Stefanie hopes that the vaccine will help to get life back to normal, and help people feel safe again. She hopes for the return of face to face contact with family and friends. She misses the hugs and going out to restaurants! Everyone is tired of this and looking forward to a return to normalcy!
Dr. Josef Fields
Dr. Josef Fields is a Physical Medicine and Rehab physician at Newport Hospital. Up until covid changed things, he was working in the Vanderbilt outpatient unit. When the corona virus hit last March, he made a transition from his typical duties of general wound care, procedures, and outpatient consulting, to being full time at the Vanderbilt Acute Inpatient unit at Newport Hospital, where they were the first hospital in Rhode Island to treat debilitated covid patients. This was a pretty stressful time! At that time there was little known about the virus, how it impacts patients or how it is spread. Josef even witnessed multiple relatively young patients becoming so ill they needed to be intubated. Now he feels that he has a pretty good grip on what to do, and how to help the patients. He monitors outcomes, and makes every effort to not harm the patient. Even though Josef was clothed in full PPE with protective equipment and disinfectants available, there was always the fear of transmitting the disease to his family. A patient might come in because of a fracture, who was asymptomatic for covid, yet tested positive. At present, Josef is not seeing the same number of patients in the acute rehab unit, and has resumed his primarily outpatient responsibilities. Josef has two young children, who give him a huge amount of pleasure! He loves spending time with them, which helps to keep him balanced. There’s always that underlying fear that he might bring the virus home to them. To keep balanced Josef goes to the gym. He jogs and walks 4 or 5 days a week. In the spring and summer he loves to garden. He also has good support from friends and colleagues. Josef is now vaccinated and is looking forward to seeing his parents and other family members again. He’d love to be able to go on vacation without concern. He’d also like to be able to socialize again without concern and fear, and is looking forward to going out in public without wearing a mask.
Alan Olinsky has been a professor at Bryant University for 54 years. When Covid appeared last March, Alan and all the other teachers switched to teaching remotely. Alan found it challenging to use his computer, headphones and microphone to teach from home via Zoom. He found the students benefit much more from face to face, classroom lessons, and he missed using a chalkboard. Although, Bryant was very successful at being open this past fall, with every faculty member and student being tested weekly, Alan was given permission to teach remotely. The semester began in August and ended in November, enabling Alan and his wife, Anita, to travel to Bethesda, MD, and spend some time with their son, Benjamin, Elissa and their young granddaughter, Maya Rose. Alan is presently on sabbatical, but continues to stay involved. He mentors some of the younger professors, assists with their research, and helps them find outside references when they are applying for tenure. Even while on sabbatical, Alan continues to mentor international students, who have stayed in their home countries because of covid. Often there’s a time difference, so Alan may be conferring with a student by Zoom late in the evening. Alans’s wife, Anita, has had some health issues. While on sabbatical, he’s been able to give her a hand. Alan will be teaching full time again in the fall. Hopefully, this will be back on campus. To stay sane during these times, Alan and Anita attend Tuesday and Friday evening services at Torat Yisrael by Zoom. They also have lots of Facetime with their sons and their families in Bethesda, MD and Seattle, WA. Although, they really enjoyed the streaming services last fall, they hope that services will be back at the synagogue for the upcoming High Holidays. Anita is also hoping to be able to return to the synagogue where she enjoys helping out in the office. They are also very appreciative of all the volunteers, who keep things running at Torat Yisrael, and are happy to be involved.
Steven Cohen is assistant professor of Health Studies at U.R.I. Because of covid-19 and social distancing most of his classes have been online. He teaches epidemiology. He finds that it’s ironic that what’s keeping his classes online is epidemiology. It has been very challenging to adapt the lessons to an effective online format. He can’t wait to get back into the classroom! He believes that he has a better connection with the students when he’s interacting with them face-to-face, and an on-line format isn’t a perfect substitute for face-to-face learning. They may stay after class to ask a question or have further discussion about what they heard in class. It’s a different world! Steven believes that we’ll come out of this stressful time stronger and more resilient. Interacting with the students and his research projects keep him going. Covid has changed the way he can carry out the research. There are competing stresses with the responsibilities at work and those at home. Steven has two young children aged 4 and 6. The kids get up early, like kids do. Both kids attend a pod school four days a week. A group of parents got together, and hired a teacher, who basically is doing homeschooling for the six children in the program. The teacher is strict about social distancing, and the children seem to be thriving. Steven says that it could be worse. Both he and his wife have jobs which they like. He’s looking forward to an end of the covid-19 restrictions. He would love to be able to go out to a restaurant where someone else would do the dishes! Steven and his wife, Jaime, both have parents living one hour to one and one-half hours away. They haven’t seen them face-to-face since October. They’d love to be able to visit and exchange hugs! Steven has a sister turning 50 this year. Covid-19 restrictions will impact celebrating that milestone. He’s looking forward to normal family interactions! They were having weekly Zoom meetings with family, but now, because of schedule changes, it has become more difficult to make it work. For Steven, having a more competent government in place to lead the country through this pandemic is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, vaccine distribution will be better organized and efficient. He’s optimistic that by next year at this time things will be a lot better. The hardest part of this has been the lack of family interaction. It’s been hard on the kids and hard on his wife. To keep balanced, there’s more baking being done. On the week-end the family take mental health breaks where they all stay off technology for a while. Steven and his wife are thinking about buying a treadmill. The family likes going on hikes, but find that tough in the winter. Steven and his family are grateful to everyone at the temple and the Rabbi, who are keeping things going with varied programming, Shabbat services, Hebrew School, and other kid’s stuff remotely, and in person when possible. Steven finds that really nice. He’s grateful to be part of a caring community!
Dr. Carlos Tilgham-Osborne
Carlos is a Clinical Psychologist, who works with children, adolescents and their families. Because of Covid-19, he’s seeing patients via Telehealth. Telehealth is a huge benefit, as it allows him to continue working with many patients, but he believes that it’s often not as effective in engaging many of his patients, especially those who are younger, when compared to face-to-face sessions. It also presents a challenge for patients to maintain the same focus, when on the computer for an extended time. He has noticed that many patients are experiencing screen fatigue, which adds another challenge to doing effective therapeutic work via Telehealth. At present, he indicated that, like many people, his main stress is managing working from home, while helping his children with distance learning when needed. Due to Covid restrictions, families are faced with new and increasing challenges to find meaningful activities, and ways to connect with others. These challenges make it extremely difficult for families and individuals to find a healthy balance between social interaction, physical health, and time spent on screens. Many families are really struggling! At the same time, he has seen reason for optimism as he has observed some reduction of stress when kids and families are not over-scheduled. Additionally, families are often exploring their local environments more, and are demonstrating some real resiliency and creativity. To that end, many families are spending more time together and making more use of their backyards. To keep balanced he and his family are doing lots of hiking, creating trails, building things, making up games, and exploring RI woods. They enjoy exploring parts of RI that they never had time to do in the past. Carlos is also engaged in some outdoor building projects, which he has wanted to do for a long time. He is grateful that, during this pandemic, he is able to continue working because of his profession and the flexibility afforded by Telehealth. He is looking forward to the day when he can again meet with patients in his office, and get back to working in ways that seem more effective for families. He hopes that people are able someday to acquire some perspective learned from the quarantines and restrictions, which will enable them to enjoy things that may have been taken for granted pre-Covid.
Dr. Rebecca Laptook
Becca is a Psychologist at R.I. Hospital in a partial hospital program for children. She sees the children in person five days a week, and interacts with their families virtually. There’s lots of stress, and an exposure risk. Becca does wear PPE. She sees the children 5 days a week from morning until late afternoon. There are screening questions for the children, when they arrive, but one doesn’t know what the children’s exposure might have been evenings and weekends. Becca and her dad, a physician, have been vaccinated. Her mom, who has several health concerns, is not yet vaccinated. Becca is a single mom who lives with her 3 year old son, and her parents live with her as well. She is very concerned about keeping her mom and child safe. There are day care and baby sitter issues, which add to the stress and hassle. Becca is grateful to have a job, but there hasn’t been a break. She feels lucky to have support at home. Becca tries to keep things in perspective. In her off time, she’s been taking care of various home projects, and to try to stay balanced she enjoys doing outside stuff with her son, exploring new trails in RI, and walking on the beach. One of Becca’s greatest concerns is getting her mom vaccinated. Becca turned 40 last March. She had big plans to celebrate that birthday in Ogunquit, Maine with her best friend. That celebration has been postponed because of the pandemic. She’s looking forward to being able to go out to eat, or to the movies again.
Leah is a guidance counsellor in the Providence School System. She teaches at Mt. Pleasant High School. The job in and of itself is very difficult. In Providence there were many problems to deal with even before Covid, such as poverty, poor attendance, students not interested in doing the work, and English as a second language. Many kids are disengaged, so don’t score well on standardized tests. Of course the teachers get blamed. Providence has a very high rate of Covid. Leah helps students pick their classes. She helps them with college applications, and is there to discuss student’s worries and concerns. There’s constant stress. Some kids don’t wear their masks correctly. That is also true for some of the teachers. Each classroom has been given Hepa Filters to help sanitize the air. The teachers were never instructed in how to use them. There is a button that needs to be pushed in order for the filter to sanitize the air, otherwise you’re just circulating the air in the room. Leah finds herself going from classroom to classroom to make sure that button has been pushed, and that the filter is placed properly. Staying positive is hard! A lot of the older students have jobs, either because they need to or they like to earn the extra pocket money. Once they feel the money, they’re less interested in school. It’s difficult to get them to understand, that in order to attain a better life situation, it’s important to complete their education. Leah experiences hope from those students who get it, and do the work and achieve. Those are the students that keep her going. Leah tries to find a “silver lining” in the present situation. It causes her to reconsider what’s important. At home, before Covid, Leah was driving her boys to various activities. It seemed like she was running in all directions. Because of Covid many activities have been cancelled. Life is less hectic. It’s good to be able to get together on Zoom. They now have a Lab puppy.
Sue teaches English and Drama as Literature at RIC and is chair of the Curriculum Committee. At present, Sue is teaching all classes virtually. This is much more time consuming. It is also more challenging to keep students interested and motivated. Last spring there Sue had three classes that added up to 80 students, with 60 of these in two separate Intro to Literature classes. Fifteen students over the three classes never completed the work and failed the class. This semester she is only teaching 50 students in two different classes, which she hopes is more manageable. Sue finds that when classes are in session, she’s actually on the computer from 8 A.M. until late in the day. That length of time on the computer is causing neck pain. Sue tries to minimize that by trying to change her posture as she works. The students submit all their work, including essays online. Then Sue makes comments and corrections and sends all the work back. The course is run through a learning management system called BlackBoard, which contains all the assignments and course materials for the students to access, and also allows her to run online Discussion forums, which are a bit like a blog. Sue has to prepare a variety of questions for these discussion groups, and it takes a lot of time to just set these up, and the instructions must be incredibly precise to guide the students. Everyone in the class has to contribute a number of entries to these discussion groups. It’s very different from the give and take conversations that can go on in a classroom setting. Sue is normally a hands-on teacher. In this virtual setting, Sue works hard to keep the students engaged. Learning in this venue is more of a struggle for the students, too. Sue can sense when a student’s enthusiasm ebbs, so she must come up with a method that will spike the student’s interest and get them back onboard. Sue is a very supportive and enthusiastic teacher, thus finds the current situation very stressful. In addition to the challenges brought about by the pandemic and teaching virtually, there are budget shortfalls that affect everything. Some programs are in danger of being deleted, and there are fears of future layoffs. There used to be 450 English majors at RIC, but those numbers are currently way down to less than 200, not just because of the pandemic, but because of a shift toward students preferring to take STEM subjects. Because of the budget restrictions there has been a hiring freeze so they cannot rehire when a faculty member leaves, which has led to the department losing two of their five faculty who teach the usually popular creative writing courses. The department recently launched a new major concentration in Professional Writing, but it has not been sufficiently advertised to attract many new students. Sue is grateful that she still has students, and she’s getting good feedback from them on how the courses are being run. But she’s looking forward to being back in the classroom, and also to being able to meet up with family, friends, and colleagues in person. To relax, Sue walks her dog, preferably taking walks in natural surroundings, and does yoga stretches. Sue hopes that the vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel and hopes that enough individuals take the vaccine so that she can get back to face-to-face teaching in the fall. Another positive is, because of mask wearing and social distancing, she hasn’t had a cold all winter.
Dr. Harvey Rappoport
Harvey is an Optometrist in Cranston, RI. He opened his practice 43 years ago. In November of 2019 he took on a partner. He says that it’s been very bad recently. Several times over the past couple of weeks, Harvey has received calls alerting him that patients, he had recently seen, had tested positive for Covid. Even though he’s wearing full PPE when treating patients, he followed those calls by getting himself tested. So far he’s had 7 tests. Fortunately his tests continue to come back negative. At first he and his partner added a shield to their full PPE, but they soon found out that one can’t really see into a patient’s eye wearing a shield. When a patient arrives for his or her appointment, they wait in their automobiles until they’re called to come in. People no longer wait in the waiting room. Recently a patient, who was being seen for a medical eye problem, informed Harvey at the end of the visit, that he had tested positive for covid-19 three days earlier. In spite of the fact that a screening was done when he made the appointment, and again when he arrived and called from the car. We have to rely on our patient’s honesty. It’s been very frustrating. After getting news about the pandemic, Harvey and his partner closed the office between March 13 and March 16, 2020. His partner came back on June 1, 2020 and got the office set up following Covid protocols. Harvey returned during the first week of July. He works two days a week and his business partner works two days a week. It’s been stressful and challenging! The toughest part for Harvey was not working for four months. He loves what he does. He finds it very difficult not to shake hands with people, and not be able to hug his patients that he’s known for years. He’s looking forward to traveling again to see his sons and their families in person. Interacting with his grandchildren on Facetime and/or Zoom is just not the same as being with them. He’s also looking forward to travel to Aruba-just to relax, and to play some golf, and be able to eat out again. Harvey is hoping that by mid-summer enough people will have been vaccinated for things to get closer to normal. Harvey feels fortunate to be busy. Harvey’s best friend has been struggling with one ailment after the other. That news and the pandemic have made him realize that good health is everything! He’s optimistic that things will get better.
David Wasser teaches Technology to 6th grade students, and a Robotics elective in the high school at Moses Brown. He also coaches the Robotics teams in both the Middle School and High School. At first teaching under the new guidelines, issued because of Covid, was quite challenging. It’s gotten much better, and is going very well. The students are coming to school. They must wear masks and be socially distanced. The middle school offers grades 6, 7 and 8. The children belong to a pod. There are 4 or 5 pods per grade with 13 or 14 kids per pod. The children in the middle school stay in the same room and the various teachers come to them. The desks are 3 feet apart and have shields. The windows are partly open. Hepa filters have been installed into the ventilation system, there are air ionizers in each classroom, and hand sanitizer is available. Teaching is more difficult. The teachers must stay at the front of the room and not walk up and down the aisles or intermingle with the students. So, it’s harder to build close relationships with the students. Most of these students have been attending Moses Brown for several years, thus know each other. However, if a new student enters the class, the barriers that have been put in place make it very difficult for the new student to get to know his or her classmates. Each pod of 13 or 14 students is in a different room, so there’s a loss of intimacy. None of the students in the Middle School have gotten sick from Covid. There may have been a very small number of situations where students, who may have been a close contact of a positive case, have been asked to quarantine out of an abundance of caution. The students have an App on their phones with a check list that they must fill out every morning in order to attend school. If they have any Covid symptoms or possible covid exposure, they’re not allowed to come into the school, and can then attend virtually. Initially, one of the big stresses for David was that he had to rethink and reconstruct his approach to teaching a subject, that he’s taught for several years, in order to comply with the new reality. Some students are learning virtually. As David faces the class, the virtual learners are joining the class on a camera behind his head. David has to remember to include the virtually learning students. David feels very fortunate to be teaching at a school that has the necessary resources to enable this new reality. There’s a big touch screen, and a special conference camera that can turn 360 degrees. The camera is sound sensitive and turns to the person who is talking, so the virtual learners can see their classmates. The current set up makes it difficult for David to interact with his colleagues. Each grade is on a separate floor. They’re no longer eating in the cafeteria. If it’s not too cold they eat lunch outdoors which is followed by recess. If it’s too cold the students eat in the classroom. The children are not allowed to talk while they’re eating inside, so David puts a Bob Ross film onto the screen while they’re eating. The children are so fascinated and watch so intently that they remain quiet. The light at the end of the tunnel is the vaccine. David hopes that things will be better by the fall. To destress David plays music and connects with friends outside wearing masks and socially distancing. David feels very fortunate to be able to interact with his students face to face, which in and of itself is spirit lifting.
Dr. Keith Schoen
Keith Schoen is a Veterinarian. They’ve had to make changes in the office to comply with the Covid protocol. Because of the pandemic, some of the Veterinarian Hospitals have closed down, and some are under staffed, because of Covid-19. So, Keith’s practice has seen a huge increase in the number of people bringing in their pets. Keith has changed the intake procedure to Curbside Care, which means that all intake info must be obtained via phone before the pet can be brought in. Then a staff member goes to the curbside and fetches the pet. This new way of doing business plus the uptick of patients has increased time on the telephone and caused a need for additional staff. Since last March Keith has added an additional doctor and 6 additional nurses. The owners are not allowed into the building with their pet, unless the pet needs to be put down. The new reality has caused more work and more stress. Through it all Keith is dedicated to continue his practice with good quality of care, compassion and customer service. He has never lost hope, and believes that things could always be worse. He just keeps going day to day. Keith is looking forward to being able to go on vacation, and spend more time with his family.