Community online forum hears from Islanders

A diverse group of Islanders appeared on computer screens on Thursday, April 9 for a conversation organized by town social worker Lucille Buergers using ZOOM. In an effort to ease the isolation of social distancing and empower Islanders to share their experiences, Ms. Buergers is convening these sessions on a regular basis.

The participants included a former town official, a merchant and retirees missing their grandchildren. A woman from the Island who is currently quarantined in Manhattan shared the anxiety — afraid to do laundry in the apartment’s basement machines — as well as the exhilaration of hearing all of the city seemingly erupt in music and noise at 7 p.m. each day in honor of the health care workers on the front lines.

There was high praise voiced by the group for the Town Board’s response, from keeping citizens informed to making sure social distancing reduced the risk of contagion. The army of volunteers mustered under the guidance of Sara Mundy also received kudos, as did the IGA staff and the volunteers under Julia Weisenberg who were controlling the flow of shoppers.

One man harkened back to the many times the Island has faced a common threat, usually hurricanes. “Shelter Islanders always work very well together in adverse conditions,” he said. “This place doesn’t look real fancy, but it manages itself very well.”

Ms. Buergers pointed out that the town was dealing with events on the horizon that are traditionally important in Island life: Memorial Day, the 10K race and the 4th of July. “They’re thinking ahead to how to manage,” to the extent that restrictions are still in place, she said.

She praised the flow of information coming from the town, putting their meetings on Zoom, as well as Channel 22. For some elderly people who are isolated and don’t have computer access, the town is working with the school to get iPads and other devices to assist them.

Everyone took turns offering tips from their own experience of coping with the stress and isolation. Cooking was a common theme, with everyone acknowledging ruefully that the “COVID-19” pounds would be gained during this time. Limiting television time was also important, several people, including a father of young children, noted.

Ms. Buergers said watching cute videos of puppies and kittens can be mesmerizing and distract you if you’re anxious. When trying to cut through the noise and depressing news, “figure out what’s most meaningful and really important.”

To give the group some perspective on the current challenge, she shared a photograph of her sister who suffered from polio, when she was using an iron lung. Her sister survived and is now 80. Ms. Buergers described the fear and uncertainty that accompanied the polio epidemic of the 1950s. “It was very scary until the vaccine came along,” she recalled.

Some of the must useful tips were solid, simple and to the point. “Make your bed,” Ms. Buergers said. “Action will keep you from getting stuck” in a funk. “Turn on music first thing in the morning, not the news.”

Ms. Buergers will be convening the next discussion on Tuesday, April 14 at 7 p.m. All are welcome to participate. Email [email protected] if you’re interested, and she will reply with a link to access the meeting online.