• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Doing ‘the best we can’ in the midst of a pandemic

Woodford County Public Health Director Cassie Prather and her family are living a new normal just like everyone else in the community. Prather and her husband of 13 years, John, both have jobs in public health, so their children hear conversations most kids don’t hear, she says. He runs disease surveillance programs that generate reports on outbreaks for the state Department of Public Health, while she focuses her attention on the local challenges of a global pandemic. “Both of us are under high demands in our positions,” she explains, “so that’s made all of this (changes to everyday life caused by COVID-19) even more challenging for our family.” Prather says she and her husband are splitting the workload at home with their job responsibilities and work schedules. Those childcare and other domestic duties typically extend their workday, she explains. “So he works late, I work late and it’s been quite the challenge,” says Prather. Her husband agrees, and says being in public health helps him better understand what she’s facing. Yet, John says he can’t imagine the stress of making “decisions that affect the whole community.” The depth of her job responsibilities, he says, results in many sleepless nights. “We’ve always worked as a team,” says John, “but now with all this going on, we’ve found the only way that we can really survive it is … to lean on each other and also function – not as two individuals – but as a team, a single unit working for the betterment of our whole household.” Prather says their five children – ages 5 to 11 – have adapted to a new normal. They haven’t been in a grocery store since early-March, when COVID-19 changed everyday life in Kentucky. The children know their parents are keeping them home to protect them and their health, but they also miss going to the store and spending their own money, she explains. Because the family keeps their circle of outside contacts very small, their children are fortunate to have each other. So they don’t struggle as much socially as a child with only one or no siblings, Prather says. They also have a few neighbor friends they play with outside – because that’s a safer environment and less-conducive to spreading the virus, she adds. “So that’s the extent of their social life at this time,” Prather says. Being together so much has actually strengthened them as a family unit, with their two oldest daughters helping out with younger siblings. “We’ve had to lean on each other. They see that mom and dad are stressed, and they’re just taking on some additional responsibilities and helping around the house,” Prather says. “We all have to pitch in.” Whether it’s helping with cleaning around the house or washing laundry or putting away dishes, she says her two oldest children have been champions. “They are resilient and they know that we’re both under stress, and if we have our door locked and we’re on a (virtual) meeting that they can’t bother us at that time unless it’s an emergency,” says Prather. She says those job responsibilities made dedicating enough time to help educate their children during non-traditional instruction days last spring “a great challenge.” Often after their older children finished their schoolwork, they helped the younger siblings, she adds. “But it is very challenging. And I know everybody has their own challenges right now,” Prather says. “We are truly in this together. And what looks normal for one family right now doesn’t for the other. But we’re all just trying to do the best we can, the best way we know how.” She says parents should talk to their children about what’s happening around them on a level they can understand. Hearing their parents explain why people are wearing masks and taking other measures to reduce the spread of the virus will help them feel more protected and safe, she adds. “They’re so much more resilient than we are as adults,” says Prather. “To them … wearing a mask is just effortless, and it’s the kind thing to do.” She says it’s been tough on the kids and their grandparents who have only seen each other at a distance while masked, “but we want to protect them (the grandparents) as much as possible … until we have a treatment or a vaccine.” Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused many kids to grow up quicker and they’ve really missed out on a lot, says John. “In our house,” he says, “it’s also true because our kids see what we deal with on a daily basis. So they’re all having to step up a little bit more too.” In terms of being able to decompress from the stresses of their jobs, Prather says, “We take moments as they come for rest and relaxation. I try to get outside as much as possible. I walk as much as I can in our neighborhood.” Prather says she has started calling family and friends more – instead of sending a text – to hear someone’s voice. “I’ve also utilized Zoom … because that way you can at least see their face when you might not be able to be with them physically,” she says. She says it’s especially fun for the children to see their grandparents and other family using online platforms like Zoom and FaceTime. “We really are … going through some of the same things,” says Prather. “And just talking about it makes it so much better because that way you know you’re not alone.” She says the schedules of the Woodford County Health Department’s staff, especially those on the COVID-response team, are being structured so they can get some rest and days off. Also, adding four disease investigators (paid by the state) to its staff has been “incredibly helpful,” she says. Prather credits local government leaders and first responders for being the health department’s partners in helping ensure the community remains as healthy as possible in the midst of a pandemic. Their working relationships and communication, which are crucial to providing a comprehensive response to COVID-19, have been strengthened, she says. “The agency heads all have my personal cell phone number,” says Prather, “and so if they need something, whether it’s a night or a weekend, they know I’m going to be available to them. I think that’s critical right now. And we owe that to our community. That’s part of the job of keeping everybody safe.”

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