Under the surface
In Dayton, the effects of COVID-19 pandemic aren’t easily seen
DAYTON — For someone taking a drive through Dayton on Iowa Highway 175 there are few outward signs that anything is amiss.
There are drivers getting gas at the Casey’s, the red “open” sign is on at Skoglund Auto and Power, the flag is flying above the post office, someone is on their way into the Dayton Community Grocery store and as you leave town to the south, the well-kept rodeo grounds stand ready.
You have to read quickly to note the ‘“Temporarily out of service” on the letter board at Emanuel Lutheran Church — that could mean a dozen other things.
Maybe they’re in need of a new pastor.
To see the real changes here from the COVID-19 pandemic, you have to slow down and look a little closer, read the social distancing sign on the door of the post office and talk to people safely six feet away.
The Rev. Kay Christie is homebound with her grandson Jayden Christie. His school is closed, so is the Dayton Methodist Church next door where she’s pastor. She also serves a congregation in Harcourt.
They’re trying to live life as normally as possible.
“We’re painting,” she said. “We’ve weeded the garden, worked in the yard, picked up the dog poop. Doing things that need to be done that are part of every day life. He’s been reading four or five books a day.”
Not being able to be with her congregation in person is taking a toll.
“I have four funerals pending,” Christie said. “Being a hugger, I miss people. It physically hurts not to be able to able to give a hug. It just hurts.”
She’s been able to keep up with many of them online and she records her sermons for online viewing.
In spite of the world having changed around her, she still smiles with ease and hasn’t lost her sense of humor.
“Jesus said ‘Love thy neighbor,” she said. “That’s now ‘Love thy neighbor but wash your hands first.”
Skoglund Auto and Power has several rows of brand new riding lawn mowers on display. A bright red “open” sign in the window brightens the gloomy gray day. A customer exits and gets into his truck then drives on.
It’s the perfect picture of an open business.
Except it’s not.
Most of those lawn mowers should already have been sold.
“This should be the height of the season,” John Skoglund, co-owner said. “Traditionally, this is our prime season. I don’t see us making that up in July or August.”
They’re also short one employee. Her day care closed and she’s forced to stay home.
“That’s hurt us,” he said.
He’s been forced to walk the fine line between chasing to stay open and finding some other way to stay in business. For now, he’s taking the same precautions recommended for everyone. Frequent hand washing, frequently cleaning surfaces, keeping a distance away from others.
“I’m not too worried about me,” he said. “But what if I take it home to my mom.”
Most of those who come in are practicing their social distancing.
“For the most part,” he said. “They’ll keep their distance. I still run into people that think this is overblown. You just keep pounding it into people. There’s a certain percentage that won’t no matter what.”
Skoglund still has his spirits up too and his sense of humor.
“Tell people we’re going to run out of mowers like we did with toilet paper,” he said. “You better buy a mower now.”
The Dayton Casey’s General Store serves as an informal gathering point for Dayton residents. It’s the place to talk, catch up and chew the fat for a few minutes.
At least it was.
Things have changed there.
Pizza and pastry are not longer self-serve. No more can returns, no more refillable mugs. A long piece of tape on the floor serves as a guide to staying back from the counter. Customers avoid being next to each other. The clerk steps back when you reach across the tape to put a bank card into the reader.
The individual bananas are now wrapped in cling wrap.
It’s just the way it is.
Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar was given some new personal protective gear recently. It’s in a paper bag on the front seat of his squad car. It could easily be mistaken for his lunch.
There’s been a little less for him to do.
“We’ve seen a decline in non-commercial and foot traffic,” he said. “There’s hardly anybody out and about.”
The closing of the Dayton Elementary School has left a void of silence.
“You don’t notice till you drive around town,” he said. “Especially the school. Between 3:20 and 3:40, I’m used to the school being busy and the children being around. It’s something you know you’ll miss till you miss it.”
The order to close bars and restaurants was issued on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Iron Saddle, Dayton’s only bar and restaurant, had to close to customers. They remain open for takeout orders.
“I was anticipating a bar rush,” Dunbar said. “The bar was closed, the lights were off. It was like a Sunday night.”
Dunbar would rather be taking his calls in person, be able to continue visiting the school as a resource officer, have ride alongs on his shift and not have to carry a mask, gloves and goggles.
“We’re still here 100 percent if you need us,” he said. “We miss seeing everybody but we’re taking this seriously, I know it’s hard to do that on a phone call.”
He can’t have any direct contact with his reserve officer Andy Pepples.
“Andy and I have to stay away from each other,” Dunbar said. “If one of us gets sick the other needs to be able to take over.”
There’s another sign in Dayton that things are different.
Conversations that used to end with “see you later” now end with a wish.