‘It’s not just fitness – everything suffers’: Community heroes reveal fears over lockdown ban on Children
As the seconds ticked by towards sporting wipeout on Wednesday, amateur boxing coach Knox White winced through agonising pain during a flare-up of his degenerative multiple sclerosis.
The wheelchair-bound 46 year-old was struck down twice within a few hours that evening, but nothing was stopping him from taking his final sessions for the youngsters at Hayling Island Community Centre.
“I didn’t need reminding why we all need to be here,” says the former Navy boxer of his packed classes with local youngsters. “After the first week back from lockdown, one of the mums came up to me and said, ‘Knox, I’m so glad we’re back as my son really needs this. I’ve been so worried because one of his friends has taken his life and another one’s attempted to’. I just thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, this is how serious it all is’.”
After a week in which the great and good of elite sport rallied behind The Daily Telegraph’s ‘Keep Kids Active in Lockdown’ campaign, it is thousands of lesser-known heroes carrying the heaviest burden over the weeks ahead.
Tennis coach Stephen Perez is another left worrying about his deprived youngsters. He describes how some of the 10 and 11-year-olds he works with under an LTA initiative in Chatham, Kent, are still rusty from bad diet and lack of exercise during the first lockdown.
“The awful thing is that we know exactly what’s coming,” says Perez, who also runs programmes providing healthy food to his community. “In our community there’s people really struggling with poverty and poor diet. We had some kids coming back with real weight issues to the point where they were struggling to just take part in exercise.
“If you’ve got a fairly contented life, it’s hard to put into perspective how big of a deal these classes are for those in a chaotic setting. For many, they haven’t really got a lot else to look forward to. It’s not just their fitness that suffers – it’s their behaviour, their routine, everything.”
Downing Street has so far resisted pressure to ease restrictions on children’s sport during lockdown, but ‘Keep Kids Active in Lockdown’ struck a chord in sport like few other newspaper campaigns had done before.
It is memories of formative experiences under grass-roots coaches like Perez and White that prompted many of the 130 star names to this week sign up to The Telegraph’s call on Government to offer children a reprieve.
The campaign was launched at 5pm on Monday, with epidemiologists, public health experts and cross-party MPs all warning of a mental and physical health time-bomb as activity levels plunge among under-18s.
Ambiguity and confusion for teachers over the risk of Covid infection inside and outdoors at schools had already led to many schools scaling back contact sports or abandoning them altogether during PE classes.
However, despite scientists insisting outdoor infection risk is significantly lower than in the classrooms, Boris Johnson was unflinching in his determination to make no exceptions to his blanket
After they graduated from high school in North Carolina, Guillermo Vargas and his brother Jonathan wanted to join the Marines. The Mexican immigrants were prepared to serve the U.S. by donning military fatigues and battling enemies overseas.
The Marines turned the Vargas brothers away, Guillermo and Jonathan say, because of their immigration status. Born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. as children without documentation, the brothers were approved for a program that shields kids like them from deportation. But the program doesn’t confer all the rights of citizenship or permanent legal residency.
So today, the brothers serve on a different front line – in the battle against COVID-19. Guillermo, 32, and Jonathan, 30, are both registered nurses in the intensive care unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Instead of wearing camo and carrying military-grade weapons to battle flesh-and-blood enemies, the brothers don personal protective equipment – disposable gowns, gloves and masks – to protect themselves against the highly transmissible novel coronavirus.
The daily battle they wage while providing treatment to COVID-19 patients in the ICU exacts a heavy emotional and mental toll on the brothers.
Several times, both siblings have cared for patients over a period of weeks, getting to know them and the relatives who call to check on their loved ones. Some COVID-19 patients have briefly improved, only to quickly deteriorate and die. “It does feel like you’re in a never-ending battle, the way the pandemic is going right now,” Jonathan says. “You’re fighting for people’s lives, and patients keep streaming in. We’re exhausted, we’re tired, we’re mentally burned out.”
Jonathan recalls being present as another nurse held an iPad so a COVID-19 patient near death could speak to his relatives one final time. “It was pretty difficult,” he says. “The patient was taking his last breaths surrounded by strangers.” Watching COVID-19 patients die without the company of loved ones “is one of the hardest things we do,” Guillermo says. “The first thing you think about is your family. You think ‘this could be my mom, my dad, my brother.’ It’s very sad.”
In the first weeks of the pandemic, Wake Forest Baptist didn’t allow family members to visit COVID-19 patients because of the highly-transmissible nature of the virus, the brothers say. Forsyth County, where Winston-Salem is located, was then among the handful of counties reporting the highest number of novel coronavirus cases in North Carolina. The rate leveled off, more or less, during the summer. Cases are now rising again: In the medical intensive care unit where the Vargas brothers work, most of the 32 beds for COVID-19 patients have been filled in recent weeks. Overall, the hospital has about 70 beds for COVID-19 patients; officials can increase or decrease the number of COVID-19 beds, depending on the need for them, a Wake Forest Baptist spokeswoman says.
Stressful Immigration Status
The two siblings spent their early years in a poor area in the state of
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck last spring, health authorities in Riverside County, California, tried to keep nursing homes and similar facilities up to speed on how to deal with the crisis through weekly phone calls. Three weeks into the crisis, it was clear that more help was needed.
On April 8, one skilled nursing facility in the region had to evacuate about 80 residents when dozens of employees didn’t show up for work. A handful of staffers had fallen ill with COVID-19; others were awaiting test results for the novel coronavirus; some were too afraid to come in, out of fear of becoming sick and infecting their families. The staff shortage threatened to jeopardize patient care, prompting the evacuation. Anxiety was spreading.
Health authorities decided they needed to act quickly to educate and support workers not only at that facility but at many others. Their aim was to keep the alarm from escalating and possibly compromising care for more patients.
“We realized we had to go beyond the weekly phone calls to help,” says Dr. Frank Flowers, the senior physician adviser for Riverside University Health System, where he consults with more than 50 skilled nursing facilities. He and his team provide education and support to nursing homes and other communal living facilities, such as memory care units.
Two days after the evacuation, Flowers, 65, joined more than 20 colleagues – county health officials, emergency medical services leaders and his health system – to brainstorm ways to offer even more assistance. And fast.
Skilled nursing facilities typically serve patients who don’t require long-term care but need rehabilitation for specific medical needs, such as recovery from joint replacement surgery. Some patients who are released from a hospital stay go to a skilled nursing facility until they can move safely in their homes, get in and out of bed without much assistance and use their cane, crutches, wheelchair or walker without danger.
Nursing homes provide provide permanent residence and supervised care. Most of the skilled nursing care facilities in Riverside County, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, include both types of residents.
Dr. Frank Flowers is the senior physician advisor for skilled nursing facilities in Riverside County, California, for the Riverside University Health System. Flowers, other health system representatives and Riverside County health officials have developed the SOS project, in which teams of experts go to skilled nursing facilities to distribute playbooks on how to avoid being infected by the novel coronavirus, discuss best practices and when necessary provide protective gear. (Courtesy of Riverside University Health System)
In response to the mass evacuation, Flowers and his multi-agency colleagues devised a two-pronged approach: They would create and distribute a “playbook” to help guide these homes through the COVID-19 crisis, and they’d hit the road to offer in-person support. They called their roving squads “Skilled Nursing Facility Outreach Support Teams,” or SOS units.
Within days, the four SOS teams started fanning out to every corner of the sprawling,