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coronavirus

A few of Suzanne Huminski's homemade masks

Members of the Southern community step up to donate masks, gloves, food, supplies and more

Suzanne Huminski hadn’t looked at her sewing machine in 17 years, but when she heard that area hospitals were running low on medical supplies and PPEs —  personal protective equipment, which is one crucial way to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep healthcare workers safe — she dug out her machine.

Huminski, who is Southern’s sustainability coordinator, is just one of the many faculty and staff at the university trying to answer the urgent calls put out by healthcare institutions and workers amidst the pandemic — including a plea from her own sister, who is a nurse.

“Hearing my sister say they were running out of masks was heartbreaking,” Huminski said. “I’m a novice. I used to make pot-holders. The first mask took me three-and-a-half hours, but once I got that one done, now I can make a mask in 25 minutes.” She is currently finishing up her 11th mask.

To help Huminski get the mask specifications right, she relied on information put out by Yale New Haven Hospital. She also watched a video tutorial put together by Southern colleague Michelle Johnston, director of donor relations in the Office of Alumni Relations, who has experience as a seamstress.

Johnston herself has sewn about 100 masks and intends to keep going “as long as her wrists and elbows will let her.” She tries to sew daily, carving out time in the early morning and evenings to cut and pin fabric and sew; she works during the day. She is sewing two types of masks: one is a cover for N95 masks (N95 respirator masks create a tight seal between the respirator and your face), and the other is a mask for everyday use. N95 masks are used by medical personnel and are in critical short supply; the homemade covers can be washed and sanitized like scrubs for reuse.

“The N95 mask covers have a pocket with a removable filter so you can put a surgical mask in the middle of it,” Johnston said. “The others have a felt filter built in. They’re cotton, then felt then cotton again. It will stop droplets from getting in and out.”

Like Huminski, Johnston started sewing as soon as she heard the requests from healthcare professionals. She has delivered masks to Yale New Haven Health in Guilford and Killingworth and to Middlesex Health in Westbrook. She also has mailed masks to family and friends, as well as Southern donors and alumni who may be at an increased risk for serious complications should they contract the virus.

Recently, Johnston sent the mask-making instructions to a colleague at Chapel Haven Schleifer Center; now the clients, who are special needs adults, are learning how to make them. After she connected with a friend at the Hamden Regional Chamber of Commerce, the chamber began hosting a virtual group of sewers. Soon they’ll be making masks.

“I don’t have a cottage industry,” Johnston is quick to point out. “There’s a feeling of helplessness and ‘What can I do?’ This is something we all can do.”

Michelle Johnston demonstrates one of her handmade masks.

It’s not just masks that are needed, of course. Virtually every segment of the population has been affected by COVID-19. Calls for help are being sent from anywhere and everywhere. Answers are coming in the same fashion.

When Southern’s Medical Director Diane Morgenthaler heard that a student was having difficulty breathing and filling her nebulizer prescription after leaving the ICU at Waterbury Hospital, Morgenthaler personally drove a nebulizer from Southern’s Student Health Services to the student’s residence. When Heather Stearns, who runs the University Swap Shop, learned that a Woodbridge resident was making medical face shields using his 3D printer, she was able to donate 900 unused transparency sheets so he could continue his work.

When the Connecticut Hospice called about needed supplies, the university collected and donated 100 disposable thermometers and masks, according to Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs. Chartwells Catering Services at Southern and the Office of Sustainability donated about 300 pounds of food — following all safety protocols — and delivered it to three different sites in New Haven, including St. Anne’s Soup Kitchen.

Sandra Bulmer, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said that the Department of Nursing and the Communication Disorders Clinic have made donations to agencies that are currently hosting Southern students, including Yale New Haven Health, Cornell Scott Hill Health, and Elim Park Assisted Living Services.

“We’ve gathered everything across campus that we have,” Tyree said. “When we learned that Yale New Haven was doing a satellite medical station in Moore Field House, our health-related labs gave donations. We’ve also donated gloves for our own custodians and campus police to use.”

Although supplies are running low and demand is only expected to increase, improvising has been key to keeping up the momentum. Huminski turned to bedsheets when she ran out of fabric for masks, for instance. Sheets — which are bleached and washed — actually make for better-fitting masks because the fabric is so tightly woven. Johnston started using brand new hair elastics for her masks when she ran out of commercial grade.

“Elastic is the new toilet paper,” Johnston said. “I have to stretch the hair elastic, but at least I can keep making masks while I’m waiting for my 70 yards of elastic to come.”

To Tyree, it’s this type of the tenacity and generosity from the Southern community that’s helping to temper the unease.

“Some of these measures are life-saving,” Tyree said. “It is stories like this, people just stepping up, that make me grateful to work in a community that cares about each other so much. We are not doing it for the accolades. It’s who we are.”

Other items donated by SCSU include:

  • Boxes of non-latex, nitrile and latex gloves
  • Gallons of hand soap
  • Antiseptic
  • Wipes
  • Goggles

 

 

 

Jack Gesino, an associate professor of social work at Southern who specializes in elder care, said that social isolation and loneliness can alter a person’s genetic response to disease even in normal times. This represents an even bigger challenge — especially for the elderly — during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, when social distancing is crucial to staying healthy.

“The virus adds an ‘uncertainty’ as to what is happening — will I get it, when will it end and so on,” Gesino said. “From a neurobiological perspective, the brain hates uncertainty and frequently responds with either depression, anxiety or both.”

Jack Gesino

But Gesino said that while these are challenges, there are steps senior citizens can take to reduce the chances of becoming depressed or overly anxious. They can also help people of all ages.

He recommends the following:

  • Setting a goal each day, as this literally calms the brain.
  • Limiting one’s exposure to the news once a day.
  • Taking the opportunity to have 15 minutes of sunshine (the brain perceives this as a reward, in addition to the health benefits of sunshine).
  • Laughter. Watch some funny sitcoms.
  • Novelty. Do something out of your routine. An example could be eating breakfast for dinner.
  • Savoring music. Scientific data shows that music provides a benefit to the brain and its ability to decrease stress.

Gesino said caregivers for the elderly also can face psychological challenges of their own. He said adult children often feel guilty in not being able to see or assist their parents.

“Video chat technology can be helpful, such as FaceTime and Skype,” he said. “Many elders who have the financial means are pretty sophisticated on using technology.

“I hope public officials have a plan in place to help elders who are disadvantaged to maintain regular social contact.”

Gesino said that in many instances, disadvantaged elders are living in public housing or apartments, although in some cases, they are living in their own homes.

 

 

Moore Field House interior, April 1, 2020

Trucks with hospital beds and medical equipment pulled up outside Moore Fieldhouse on March 31, 2020, as the National Guard began the assembly of a 300-bed “Connecticut Medical Station” inside the facility. Southern is providing “overflow” beds for Yale New-Haven Hospital, in anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 patients throughout the month of April . The university has also made available 2,500 rooms in nine residence halls for an as yet undesignated purpose, although at least one hall will be used to house medical personnel.

“As a public institution dedicated to the pursuit of social justice, Southern is committed to helping the state mitigate the spread of COVID-19,’” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “With hundreds of graduates from our College of Health and Human Services on the front lines fighting the pandemic, it was a natural step for the university to make our facilities available during the duration of this public health crisis.”

See a photo gallery of the field house’s conversion into a field hospital

See media coverage of Southern’s conversion to a medical station:

Gov to visit ‘hospital in a box’ at SCSU (WFSB, April 1, 2020)

National Guard soldiers help build field hospital to help overflow of coronavirus patients (WTNH, April 1, 2020)

Field hospital for non-coronavirus patients built at SCSU (New Haven Register, March 31, 2020)

National Guard, SCSU To The Rescue (New Haven Independent, March 31, 2020)

Overflow hospital to be set up at Southern Connecticut State University (WTNH, March 31, 2020)

National Guard Sets Up Field Hospital at SCSU For Coronavirus Patients (NBC CT, March 31, 2020)

COVID-19 overflow site being constructed at SCSU (WFSB, March 31, 2020)

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (third from left) at Moore Field House to inspect the Connecticut Medical Station that the National Guard set up there (April 1, 2020)

 

 

Frank LaDore teaching the Death and Dying class (photo courtesy Cara McDonough, New Haven Independent)

The New Haven Independent ran an article, “SCSU Prof, Students Work Through The Covid Grief” (March 31, 2020), about Frank LaDore, director of Transfer Student Services, who teaches the Death, Dying & Bereavement class at Southern. LaDore, who has worked at the university for 28 years in a variety of departments, has been teaching the course since 2012.

The class, offered by the Department of Public Health, is described on the university’s website as “understanding death in our culture and social and personal mechanisms for responding to death, dying and bereavement.”

While the university remains closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the course is meeting online for the rest of the semester.

 

Sally Sizer, who works as a secretary for the Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management at Southern and a professional dog trainer, offers five quick tips on pet care during the coronavirus pandemic. She teaches dog training classes at Metro Pooch in North Branford.

“While pets don’t understand pandemics, they DO understand stress in their human family,” Sizer says. “They do this by being able to smell that their family (or individual person) is stressed. Our pets can smell perspiration and they can sense anxiety. Emotional support dogs are known for being able to do this.”

Sizer also said that pets, especially dogs, are creatures of habit. “Dogs thrive on things being as consistent as possible.” She said that her own dogs look out the door for at least 10 minutes before she arrives home. But when their human family members are home all the time, it can actually upset their sense of consistency.

She recommends the following tips to help ease your pets’ stress levels:

  • Try to keep your pet on as much of a routine as possible. For example, if you have a dog, please continue to walk them at the same time each day.
  • Play with your pet! Whether you have a cat or dog, please make sure you spend some time to play with them. For a cat, maybe toss a catnip ball. For a dog, play the “find it” game with a yummy treat (put the dog in one room, hide the treat in another. Once the treat is hidden, ask your dog to “find it!”)
  • Make sure you feed your pet the EXACT same food for them. Please don’t switch their dog or cat food in this middle of this pandemic. This could cause digestive upsets for them.
  • BREATHE! This may sound silly, but pets understand body language. If you learn to breathe slowly while in the company of your pet, this will help them to calm down as well.
  • Ear Slides — One of the most important things you can do for your pet is to do something called “ear slides.” Many dogs and cats LOVE their ears rubbed; but most people don’t know why! The answer is because you are accessing many of your pets acupressure points that are located in their ears! By gently stroking your pets’ ears you are accessing their acupressure points that include areas in their entire bodies for behaviors like stress, along with other behaviors.

Journalism Professor Frank Harris III

Journalism Professor Frank Harris III, an award-winning columnist for the Hartford Courant, speculated about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in a recent op-ed, “We don’t know where the coronavirus is taking us, but off we go nonetheless” (Hartford Courant, March 17, 2020). As Harris writes, “I will adjust and adapt, just as we all must in this journey along the road of our oh-so-exciting lives.”

In addition to teaching journalism and writing a column for the Courant, Harris formerly served as chair of the Journalism Department. He also makes documentary films.

 

 

Andrew Toce, ’14, LPC, ADS, works in his own private counseling practice, with a focus on sports psychology. Read our interview with him and learn how he is continuing his work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

SCSU: Can you briefly describe your current employment?

AT: I am the owner and operator of my own private practice named Deep Breaths Counseling, LLC which is based out of South Windsor, Conn. Here I focus my work on sport psychology and co-occurring disorders. I have had the privilege of working with athletes of all ages and levels, from professional to youth athletes pursuing their dreams of playing at the next level.

SCSU: How has your job changed in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 outbreak?

AT: My job has changed drastically in the past few weeks. I normally am open 3 days a week and see all clients face-to-face. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, things have changed from shaking hands to keeping 6 feet from my clients at all times and spraying everything down with disinfectant in between clients.

SCSU: Have you had to move any services or parts of your job online to support social distancing? How has this been?

AT: In the last week, I have had to move my entire practice to an online platform. This has been a challenge and very new. In our field, you need to be very particular as HIPAA rights for clients need to be followed at all times. I had to create special consent forms and documents that could be electronically filled out. I needed to find ways to send secure HIPAA-compliant emails. I also needed to find a platform that was HIPAA-compliant to do video and audio sessions, as everyday software like Facetime, Skype and Zoom do not have the correct level of security to qualify. On top of that, getting insurance companies to cover online services, named telehealth in my field, was a challenge and barrier up until the second week of March. Thankfully, as I write this, most major insurance companies have enacted special circumstances to meet the needs of their customers and the providers that give these services.

SCSU: From your professional perspective, what is the local impact COVID-19, so far?

AT: From my perspective, the impact has been vast and unwavering. Companies are closing, there are more layoffs happening every day, families are struggling, and small businesses are desperate for anything to keep them afloat. It is a reminder to me of how fast everyday life can change and how we take things for granted without even realizing it. People are scared of COVID-19, as am I, but I truly believe in the phrase, “Educate to Regulate.” I started using this phrase when giving talks on substance use to local high schools, but it works in this context as well. We need to educate ourselves on COVID-19 and the facts about it. Only then will we regulate the way we do things and make it possible to flatten the curve. I have the utmost respect for doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians, paramedics, and so many others who don’t have the option to work from home and are daily putting their own well-being on the line to help those struggling from COVID-19 and all other situations.

SCSU: What are your suggestions, personally/professionally, for getting through this pandemic?

AT: I think we are unprepared for the vast amount of ICU beds and ventilators that we will need, and I believe the answer is that companies who supply these need to recognize this is bigger than economics. In order to save lives, we need to come together as a human species and forget about any future profits and focus on the here and now. I think we need to listen to those that are on the front lines, we need to follow the advice given and recognize that if we all think, “This won’t affect me,” then it will affect all of us. Social distancing and self-isolation are the answer. We need to learn from China’s experience and also Italy’s struggles. Their government asked that everyone self-isolate and many didn’t. They now find themselves ill-prepared to handle the vast amount of cases.

SCSU: What is the impact of moving to telehealth for patients and your practice?

AT: My goal is to make this transition as low impact as possible on my clients. We are all scared and the unknown is anxiety-provoking. The last thing I want to do is add to that and create more barriers for them. I did a lot of research and found a system that is user-friendly and compatible with any device. My client simply has to go to a specific URL and enter their name at the time of their session; once that happens I see them in my virtual waiting room and I initiate the session. All copays are collected through an online processing format and the rest is normal.

Jay Moran

Athletic Director and mayor of Manchester, Conn., Jay Moran talks about the challenges of dealing with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

A column about Athletic Director Jay Moran in the March 22, 2020, edition of the New Haven Register discusses in depth the challenges he and the SCSU Athletic Department face because of the coronavirus, and how he has adjusted to working online. As for having to cancel the spring athletics season at Southern, Moran is quoted as saying, “‘Our athletes were upset at first, but I think they are accepting now that it has affected all college athletics. I think people have a different perspective on life. You’ve seen what happened in Italy. As difficult as it was for the student-athletes, it was an easy decision in some ways for us. This must be about their safety and well-being.'”

In addition to heading up the University’s Athletic Department, Moran is mayor of Manchester, Conn.

Social distancing and the closing of typical meeting places are designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus). Public health officials believe these steps can be effective tools in slowing down the impact of the virus.

And while necessary, these changes are often psychologically difficult for people, according to Julie Liefeld, associate professor of marriage and family therapy and director of the SCSU Family Therapy Clinic.

“Even if you identify as mostly introverted, a public health directive to distance yourself from others for safety causes our fight or flight impulses to kick in and try to take over,” Liefeld says.

“This is due, in part, because of the forced choice nature of the directive and because you are facing the unknown. So many of us will notice that we are more restless, anxious, worried, and/or unable to take advantage of the downtime during this phase of managing COVID-19. “

SCSU professor Jule Liefeld
Julie Liefeld

Liefeld offers 10 suggestions to help manage our feelings and our mental health:

  1. Be mindful of what you are going through. Even if you aren’t ill or in a difficult situation, you are experiencing stress. It’s important to acknowledge how you feel. Write them down and talk them out. Every morning write out what is weighing on your mind. Set a timer for 5 minutes and let it rip. Don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. Close the journal and leave it all right there. Don’t spend time re- reading what you wrote down.
  2. Establish a pattern or routine for your day and evening, and stick to it. Writing down a schedule or a plan for your day has been shown to make you feel grounded and safer. Even if you don’t do all the things on the schedule – writing them down is the calming factor). And keep your sleep schedule healthy.
  3. Make movement a part of your day. Find a way to move or exercise, even if it’s climbing your stairs a few times. Do some stretching, march in place, do some yoga. Investigate guided exercise or movement online. Lots of gyms and places that feature yoga are streaming free classes every day.  Don’t give into any internal cues that say, “why bother” or “I will do that tomorrow.”
  4. Open your windows or go outside. The CDC is recommending getting fresh air while complying with social distancing. Take a walk around your block, yard or patio.  Breathe in and practice mindfully noticing your surroundings.
  5. Minimize or avoid the use of alcohol and/sedatives as a coping mechanism to relax or de-stress. Instead, take a bath, drink tea or a similar non-alcoholic drink. Remember that the restlessness that accompanies worry only lasts for 90 seconds.
  6. Incorporate sound in your environment. That can include music and talking to a friend, partner, or family member by phone or video chat. Change up your hand washing song.
  7. Moderate your exposure to the news and people who are focused on increasing your worry. Once you have your daily information of the general situation and for what your role in the world is, turn it off. For those friends and family members who make you feel MORE anxious, limit your interactions to a polite check in and then move on to more constructive conversations.
  8. Manage your feelings of guilt, fear, blame, anger, and shame by noticing how you feel, and reminding yourself about what you can and can’t control. Focus on what you can control and being good at taking care of those things.
  9. Ask for help if you think you might need it. You can dial 211 to get more support for mental health support, financial support, or instrumental needs such as food or heat.
  10. Allow yourself to adjust to this new mode of being. Acknowledge how you are feeling and reacting to it, and then create a structure that supports healthy function.  We are learning as we go, and you are not alone.

Be well.

 

 

From: James Thorson, Chairman of the SCSU Department of Economics:

How likely is a recession as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of many businesses?

If the social distancing measures remain in place for a month or more, then a recession is almost inevitable. Even in our increasingly online economy, many of our transactions involve face-to-face transactions. In many sectors of the economy, spending is being curtailed — which results in lower incomes. The good news is that if the virus gets under control fairly quickly, any downturn should be relatively short.

James Thorson

Will the economic stimulus help stave off a worse recession and help it bounce back more robustly when the virus is finally under control?

In all likelihood, economic stimulus should lessen the severity of a recession — as long as the stimulus induces additional spending in the economy. This additional spending is likely because many people have had their incomes reduced dramatically, so they will need the stimulus money to survive. Once the virus is under control, the economy should bounce back pretty quickly because there will be much pent up demand.

What are your thoughts on the volatility of the stock market?

The stock market hates uncertainty and this virus has caused uncertainty. What we thought was going to be a two week or so social distancing period has extended to an uncertain period of time. This is having devastating effects on businesses such as restaurants, hotels, airlines, among others. When this will end is anybody’s guess. Such uncertainty always makes investors nervous. The good news is that the virus will eventually come under control, and the economy and the stock market will eventually recover.

What effect is the pandemic having on small businesses?

Many small businesses are going to be hit very hard by the pandemic, at least in the short term.  For example, many restaurants and stores have shut down for the time being.  That means that these business owners are still paying rent and property taxes, but they are receiving no income. Even businesses not directly affected are likely to see a slowdown.  The supply chain in the United States is still operating, but more slowly and not as completely.

Also, productivity is likely to be lower, even with people working from home.  For most of us, our houses are just not set up as efficiently as our workplaces, so that makes it more difficult to get work done.

With the market in decline, is this generally a good time for people to increase their investments, such as in a 401(k), or to sit tight?

The general question of market timing is always a difficult one, and stock prices are inherently unpredictable.  For a person with a long-tern horizon, I would not shy away from investing in the market.  Those who invested in the market in 2008-2009 still have done very well, even with the market decline.

The best time to invest in the market is when things are at their worst. But there are two potential challenges with that strategy.  First, we never really know beforehand when “the worst” is.  Second, it can be psychologically difficult for many people to do this. That is one reason why automatic investment strategies, such as when we have money withheld from our paychecks to be put in a 401(k) or 403 (b), can be very successful over time.