Scottsbluff, Gering and the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic – We Just Roll With It

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| COMMUNITY |

As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, Nebraska’s Panhandle has seen relatively few cases as most residents have taken warnings from public officials seriously and sheltered-in-place. Under the governor’s directed health measures, many public venues are closed. This includes theaters, houses of worship, gyms, social clubs, salons and social gatherings, including weddings, funerals, concerts and athletic events.

Written by: Irene North
Photographs by: Hawk Buckman
Published April 15, 2020


Abandoned Streets – Broadway, Scottsbluff, NE on Wednesday April 15, 2020 during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Abandoned Streets – Broadway, Scottsbluff, NE on Wednesday April 15, 2020 during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Schools and most businesses are closed. Restaurants have closed their dining rooms and reduced their hours. Grocery stores have limited their hours, with some enforcing social distancing within their stores as well as the number of customers who can be in the store at once.

Residents of the Panhandle have been social distancing since mid-March. They are finding creative ways to stay healthy and mentally well while encouraging each other.

Teachers around the Panhandle have formed ìtrainsî with their cars to drive around their neighborhoods, honking their horns to let their students know they have not been forgotten.

Alliance residents have been driving in town honking and waving at each other. The same has happened in Scottsbluff, Gering and other cities in the Panhandle. No one gets out of their car, but the community spirit is alive in each wave as the cars travel along the empty roads in western Nebraska.

The Midwest Theater and the Legacy of the Plains Museum have teamed up for pop-up drive-in movies.

Public libraries are closed, so residents have become their own libraries. Scottsbluff resident Katie Bradshaw is one of several people who have placed books from their personal collections outside their homes for other people to read. When she heard about the closing of the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library, which Bradshaw believes is an essential service, she was determined to find a way to help anyone who wanted to continue reading.

“People didn’t really have time to load up on books before the library closed,” Bradshaw said. “Books are the kind of thing that can keep someone’s mind off current events, to help them escape a little.”

Bradshaw knows eBooks are an option, but not everyone has access to them. She had many books in her collection she was willing to share. Bradshaw dusted off a little cart she was using in her laundry room, filled it with books and rolled it out to the end of her driveway.

Bradshaw’s Fair Weather Little Free Library, located at 2110 Second Avenue in Scottsbluff, is open while the sun shines and during fair weather. The collection has more than 50 books to offer. The only rules: take a book, leave a book.

“I call it the Fair Weather Little Free Library, because I can only put it out if it’s not raining or snowing,” Bradshaw said. “Thirty-one books have been taken out so far, and several of my friends and neighbors have contributed to the book supply.”

Her neighbors are also helping her during her time of social distancing. Each time she has gone out for a walk, she gets to see chalk drawings the neighborhood children have made on the sidewalks.

“There was one house where they wrote a thank you to the mail carrier by their mailbox,” Bradshaw said. “And there was a whole bunch of really nice lift-you-up sayings at one house.”

Unfortunately, the sayings were washed away in the rain, but Bradshaw appreciated the work the youth put into it and said the drawings have really helped her keep her spirits up.

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Double LCountry Store

NOT TODAY – Children’s playground equipment is taped-off by the Scottsbluff, Nebraska Parks and Recreation Department to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
NOT TODAY – Children’s playground equipment is taped-off by the Scottsbluff, Nebraska Parks and Recreation Department to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

||| JOURNALISM FINDS A WAY

At Chadron State College, reporters at The Eagle, have had to adapt to the way they cover and report the news. Managing Editor Brandon Davenport was helping younger staff members learn the ropes of journalism.

Newspapers rely on having current images with their stories, but social distancing during the pandemic has prevented that from happening. Davenport isn’t yet prepared to send his young staff out in the field to risk their health for a photograph.

“To me, it doesn’t make sense to put a photographer out when we’re social distancing,” he said. “With sports being canceled across the world, there wasn’t going to be an opportunity for up-to-date photos, so we went to the archives.”

The staff has discussed what they will do when the time comes to go out for stories and photographs.

“My No. 1 focus is keeping people safe, keeping staff safe and keeping readership safe through keeping them informed,” Davenport said. “I do not want our journalists to have to be out there and be forced to not social distance.”

The staff of seven know they have a lot of people relying on them and have put staying healthy as their first priority. Anyone who enters the newsroom must first stop at a sink just outside and wash their hands. There is also hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes used throughout the newsroom.

While Davenport wishes The Eagle was producing more, he also knows his staff is young and have never had to work under such conditions before.

“I can’t expect them to be producing at their best right now, so I try to take it a little easy on them now,” Davenport said. “But we’re still putting out some quality journalism.”

It was important to not stop publishing, but it was an “easy hard” decision for Davenport to stop publishing the print edition of The Eagle. There are only 100 people on campus. Davenport didn’t want people out in public distributing the paper.

The staff then had an identity crisis. As a weekly paper, they had to decide how often to publish their stories. The Eagle is now publishing stories online as they are completed.
The Eagle will celebrate its 100th birthday in September and while Davenport laments it wasn’t around during the Spanish Flu in 1918, he knows in 100 more years, people will look back to see how he and his staff covered the pandemic.

“We have a duty that we preserve this history,” he said.

Davenport misses the ability to just go outside and take candid shots of people and events on campus and in town. He has also stopped mentoring a young photojournalist, who Davenport said will quickly be able to outshoot him.

“We were just learning if you have a cool subject matter, you come up with cool photos,” Davenport said. “Then this happens and we’ve got no way to go out and photograph anything.”

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||| CONNECTING PRODUCERS AND CONSUMERS

Around Scotts Bluff County, two friends have found a way to help the community by connecting producers and consumers of local food and produce. Melanie Chapman and Lyndi Ashe created the Facebook group Farm to Table after Ashe explained to Chapman her hopes.

“When Lyndi mentioned starting a group, others were also stating they don’t want to go to stores anymore either due to the virus or due to the stores don’t have much on their shelves,” Chapman said.

Ashe’s fiancé is a high-risk individual. The newest addition to their family was born in February and Ashe has been careful of staying away from all sicknesses. She also thought there should be a place for local producers and hobbyists to advertise their products without having to participate in farmers’ markets due to their own time constraints.

“With the recommendation to stay home, I realized my idea could actually be beneficial for the current climate,” Ashe said. “I wanted to help connect people with all the awesome products my fellow farmers/producers have, as well as hopefully helping people stay healthy by avoiding the risky trips to the store in the process.”

The response to the group has been overwhelmingly positive. There are a lot of people who have eggs, milk, produce and meat available and are coming together to help each other while knowing their extras are not going to waste.

“One of my staff told me, ‘I love how stubborn you are,” Scanlan said. “I asked her why and she said, ‘I still have a job and it’s because you’re stubborn.’”

Chapman hopes the group will help to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“If we have resources in our community to avoid the stores for a few things, then that’s great,” Chapman said. “We’ll help reduce the spread.”

The group is not just a way for everyone to come together in a time of crisis, there are also tips and tricks about how to store, can and freeze your products. Several of the producers are also able to make a little money while staying at home or having been laid off from their in-town jobs. Ashe knows several individuals the Facebook group is helping on both sides of the supply and demand.

“I’m really hoping it gives our community that gets involved a sense of togetherness and hopefulness by putting a face and name to not only who is buying what you produce, but also where your food is coming from,” Ashe said.

During transactions, everyone is working to make as little contact as possible. For Ashe, it’s a less risky transaction than going to the store right now and she gets to put a friendly face to where her food comes from.

Chapman is confident the group will continue even after the pandemic is over.

“You’ll be surprised by how many people want to know where their food comes from,” Chapman said. “I want to help out those who don’t have the resources to raise their own products like beef and produce.”


Kiwanis Trails of Fun Playground Closed  Scottsbluff parks & Recreations department closed the park to help prevent children who are strongly resistant to COVID-19 from contracting and spreading the virus.
Kiwanis Trails of Fun Playground Closed Scottsbluff parks & Recreations department closed the park to help prevent children who are strongly resistant to COVID-19 from contracting and spreading the virus.

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||| SCOTTSBLUFF BUSINESSES BRING THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER

On a “normal” day, customers come in and out of Cappuccino and Company to purchase a variety of coffees and meals. They sit down and chat, staying as long as they desire. During the pandemic, the tables have been moved and the chairs are stacked. The customers no longer linger or come into the coffee shop.

Angela Scanlan, owner and a member of the Downtown Scottsbluff Association (DSA), is saddened by the emptiness of the physical location, but Cappuccino and Company’s customers are still supporting their favorite coffee shop.

Cappuccino and Company has changed their primary focus to delivery and curbside delivery of their products. Scanlan is quick to credit her staff for their enthusiasm and dedication to making their customers feel some sense of normalcy during the pandemic.

Some members of the community have questioned the decision for businesses to remain open during a time of crisis. A comment from one of her employees reassured Scanlan she had made the right decision.

“One of my staff told me, ‘I love how stubborn you are,” Scanlan said. “I asked her why and she said, ‘I still have a job and it’s because you’re stubborn.’”

Scanlan is refusing to close or layoff any employees.

“The most I will do is a reduction in hours or partial unemployment,” Scanlan said. “I promised them work and it’s my job to create work for them.”

Scanlan has also informed her staff that if they should need to stop working, their job will be waiting for them when they return. None have asked for time off.

The staff at Cappuccino and Company are trying to get the message across that although they are serving the public differently during social distancing, they will be there to provide the normalcy many need right now.

“They feel we are an anchor of normalcy in a tumultuous time,” Scanlan said. “They’re there every day seeing the fear in people’s eyes and are serving up a cup of sanity.”

Scanlan has seen businesses along Broadway adapt to find unique ways to sell their goods and deliver them to customers while social distancing. Runza is still open for drive-thru orders only. Studio B art gallery and gift shop is offering window shopping experiences before they make purchases by calling in.

On Saturday mornings, residents come to Cappuccino and Company for their usual fare before joining with others to take a cruise through downtown Scottsbluff.

“You order via the app and then we take a cruise around Broadway and 27th like a bunch of teenagers,” Scanlan said. “We plan on doing that indefinitely during this distancing time.”

Scanlan doesn’t mind if you go cruising without making a purchase.

“You can come drive with us even if you don’t make an order,” Scanlan said. “Curbside coffee, cruise and friendship is designed to be a community event.”

Scanlan also made a Facebook group where residents could make homemade pictures of Easter eggs to hang in their windows. Then, parents drove around town to find the eggs in a “hunt.” It was a new idea for an old past-time. It was also a way for many people to take a positive approach to their mental health.

“It provided some semblance of normalcy for parents and their kids,” Scanlan said.

Interior of Cappuccino and Company April 15, 2020
Interior of Cappuccino and Company April 15, 2020

||| STAYING POSITIVE DURING CRISIS

Davenport has been serious about social distancing, which he said has been a blessing and a curse. His girlfriend is away working on a 10-month job opportunity for her career.

Once he couldn’t leave his small apartment often, he realized just how much things have changed. He has had to find ways to remain disciplined, complete his schoolwork and publish The Eagle. He has had to learn how to be alone and how to recognize when his mental health is suffering.

“There was a day last week, I said to myself, I’m not in a position to do any work today,” Davenport said. “I need to take the day for myself.”

As the days for everyone in Wyobraska begin to bleed into each other, Davenport has some advice: talk to your friends to get through the tough days and find ways to shake things up.

“On the days I am working on schoolwork, I get up, shower, put on working clothes and try to be a real human being,” Davenport said.

Davenport hopes everyone remembers we are approaching a point where we must remain vigilant with social distancing and self-quarantining even though it is tough.

“I hope it doesn’t lead to people being irresponsible,” he said. “I don’t think this is even close to being over.”

All the ideas the Wyobraska communities have had have an overarching theme of encouraging people to be kind to themselves and to others. No one knows how things will turn out in the end, but communities are coming together to support each other in whatever positive way they can think of.

The country is experiencing different levels of grief. Everyone is more vulnerable, scared and sad than normal, but Scanlan still sees the positive even in the middle of a pandemic.

Instead of thinking the world is terrible and we’re sad inside, we can think about what to do to support ourselves and others.

“At the moments when we feel hopeless, we can still be kind toward others,” Scanlan said.

wyobraska mag expeditions partner
wyobraska mag expeditions partner

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