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Napans weigh in on coronavirus crisis
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Napans weigh in on coronavirus crisis

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series

Hunkering down for the long haul? Keeping a watchful eye on the evening news? Stocking up on toilet paper? Hoarding tiny bottles of hand sanitizer? Or adopting a “devil-may-care” attitude?

Napans report a variety of responses to the growing coronavirus crisis.

“I’m a prisoner in my own house,” said Louie Pometta of Oakville.

“I’m 87 years old, my wife is 84, and we’ve been self-contained for well over a month,” said Pometta. He feels like a hermit, he added.

“We’re kind of scared to get in the mix of people,” he admitted.

Pometta said to pass the time they read the news “and watch the situation every day.” He’s not sure when they will end their self-quarantine.

It’s certainly something “we never expected to have to do in our lifetime.”

Pometta does hope more people continue social distancing, and that includes the U.S. President. He noticed that Donald Trump continues shaking hands. President or not, he should stop that, said Pometta. “He’s not above the rest of us.”

The virus didn’t stop some seniors from gathering at the Napa Senior Center for its regular lunch, including friends Flora Knepp, Betty Guy and Margaret Farmer.

“I’m concerned,” about the virus, admitted Knepp. “Especially because they talk about the elderly being more susceptible.”

What’s her strategy to stay healthy? “I just stay out of crowds.”

“You’ve gotta be careful,” but not go overboard and isolate yourself at home, said Guy. “I’d be bored and depressed if I wasn’t able to get out,” she said.

How is she avoiding getting sick? “We wash our hands a lot.”

Margaret Farmer of Napa said she’s not doing anything differently during this outbreak.

“I just stay out of crowds and stores. I’ve got a freezer full of stuff,” to eat. But Farmer is still doing her lunch at the senior center. “I like to get out and at least talk to people.”

At the same time, Farmer said she has noticed a drop off in the number of seniors coming to the center for lunch.

Or maybe they just didn’t like what was on the menu that day, said Guy.

Another senior lunch guest, Jesus Cirigo of Napa, said he hasn’t been paying too much attention to the news about coronavirus. He’s 72, but healthy, said Cirigo in Spanish. However, he is washing his hands more and instead of shaking hands, he’s bumping elbows.

“I’m not worried about getting sick,” said another senior who declined to give her name. “I’m tired of hearing about it on the news.”

The Senior Center has seen a slight drop off in attendance – most noticeable at lunchtime, said Jaina French, a city spokesperson. One bridge group opted to cancel their get-together.

French said one question being asked frequently at this time is whether the Senior Center is still open. The answer is yes.

Besides good hand hygiene, the center has posted signage that all municipalities in Napa County have been provided to share in public and employee areas, in English and Spanish.

“We encourage ‘no contact’ greetings,” read the signs. “No handshakes. Just good conversation.”

Carlos Felix, 35, of Napa, said he and his wife had to cancel their planned April trip to Spain and Italy because of the virus.

“We started monitoring things early on,” said Felix, who works in the wine industry.

“We’re just concerned with getting on an airplane and heading towards Europe. If we go, we’re not even sure we’ll get back in,” he said.

Yes, there is a financial impact to the decision. “We paid for the trip up front,” which was purchased through Costco travel. “We can get up to 75% of our money back but we’re on the hook for 25%,” he said.

“We’re trying to see if airlines will make additional accommodations. We’d love to be able to rebook.”

As for daily life, Felix said he’s being “extra diligent” about touching his face and wiping down his cell phone often.

He’s healthy, so “I’m not too worried about myself personally,” but what if he becomes a carrier and infects someone else?

Felix said he’s not stocking up on things like toilet paper or bottled water.

“We were more diligent” about disaster planning after the 2014 earthquake and recent fire seasons, “but this isn’t setting off alarm bells yet,” he said.

“You walk outside and everything seems to be normal. Everyone is still coming to work. There hasn’t been a shutdown.” He doesn’t want to overreact. After all, “We’re not in Italy.”

Kathleen Thomas described herself as a healthy senior with mild underlying health challenges.

She canceled her eight-week trip scheduled to depart March 9 to visit friends in Thailand and then on to Belgium and England, said Thomas.

“It broke my heart to do so, but I didn’t want to put myself at risk for either picking up the disease, or being caught up in the chaos of control measures,” said Thomas.

“I live next door to family and ask them to pick things up for me from the grocery so I avoid going there as well. I think my own risk is low, but I’m not willing to take a chance where I can help. And I basically hate shopping anyway.”

Thomas does plan a road trip up north to visit friends in the coming weeks, but “in the car, by myself.”

In the meantime, “I read as much as I can about the progress of the virus and do my best to inform my family and friends with what I find that is honest and useful.”

Wendy Bennett of Napa said she’s changed her daily habits because of coronavirus.

“We are washing our hands more frequently and for the full 20 seconds as recommended,” said Bennett. “We have bought disinfecting wipes for cleaning hard surfaces such as counters, bathrooms, door knobs, etc.”

She hasn’t noticed any shortages in local stores, said Bennett. At the same time, this Napan said she and her husband “are avoiding crowds and shop early or late when the stores are not as busy.”

And there’s been one other big change. “We postponed cruise plans to Alaska this summer with family,” said Bennett. “Maybe we’ll be able to go in 2021.”

Kelly E. Carter of Yountville said she was scheduled to go on a cruise to Mexico from March 22-29 but will cancel those plans.

“Although I’ve been to more than 40 countries and territories, I’ve never taken a cruise, so I was looking forward to visiting a few places with only unpacking once.”

“In a way, I’m happy to stay home in Yountville that week because there were a few events I was going to miss.”

Yet, “With Taste of Yountville cancelled, one has to wonder how many more events will follow suit,” wrote Carter.

The good news is that “we live in Napa Valley, one of California’s most scenic places. The coronavirus can’t take that away from the people here.”

Student Alexis Melgoza Rodríguez wrote that “this virus is taking a very big toll on everything in different ways.”

She’s a member of the winter percussion group at Vintage High School and competitions have been cancelled due to the virus, she said. “It sucks because we have practiced so much and put so much effort into our show! We were excited to perform and to compete. We were only able to go to one competition. I feel bad for our seniors because it’s a really cool show and they were only able to perform it once.”

Christopher Renas of Napa had something different to say.

“I’m not concerned in the least about this flu,” wrote Renas. “I’m healthy, and I trust my immune system. On the other hand, the elderly and unhealthy are liable to die from any number of things, and the coronavirus is just one more possibility.”

“Dare I say this virus is just the latest media frenzy and is being completely blown out of proportion for the sake of ratings and financial gain,” Renas wrote.

“In summary, I’m not drinking the ‘Kool-aid’ on this one.”

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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