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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

People supported by LADD have been 'valiant' and 'resilient' through the pandemic

Four women sit on a bench surrounded by fallen fall leaves, they're smiling and hugging.
From left, roommates Annie Callan, Ashley Miller, Sarran Hoffman, and Jenny Crowe.

We've been spending the past few weeks reflecting on the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. WVXU has been checking in with people supported by LADD throughout the last two years — what's changed, and what's ahead.

Matt Chaffin is back at work answering phones at LADD's offices. He's happy things are more normal and not like they were two years ago. When he spoke with WVXUin July 2020, he was missing visits with his family. Since then, he's moved into one of LADD's new smart homeswith several roommates in Anderson Township.

Roommates Drew Jones, Daniel Jones, Matt Chaffin and Jim Shannon in their Smart Living pilot home.
Roommates Drew Jones, Daniel Jones, Matt Chaffin and Jim Shannon in their Smart Living pilot home.

Over in Madeira, Jenny Crowe is also getting back to her pre-pandemic routine.

"I still do the Master Gardener program and I teach a couple of classes," she explains. "Oh and art! I'm an artist. I go to Visionaries and Voices (in) Northside, as well."

But Crowe hasn't gone back to one thing she really enjoyed — working at Krohn Conservatory.

"I miss teaching out in the community. I miss seeing other people in the community, like when I was at Krohn I would be able to talk about all the different plants there and sales and stuff."

LADD supports 600 people living with developmental disabilities, assisting with housing, employment and other means of independence. Many had to hunker down extra long when the pandemic hit because of the higher risks if they got sick.

When the COVID vaccines became available last year, the agency organized quickly, hitting a 97% vaccination rate by February.

Crowe says she's more comfortable going places now that she's vaccinated and boosted. She still wears a mask and social distances, and she's staying away from big crowds.

Balancing safety and mental health

It's the same for her roommate, Annie Callan. She's been able to go back to working at Bonefish Grill a few days a week and attend some of her favorite fitness and art classes.

"Going forward, I'd really like to get back into my regular routine ... so in answer to your question about going forward, I have to say, if everybody can still stay safe and wear their masks and follow the protocols of the pandemic, there's a really good chance that we can get back to normal."

Three woman pose for a professional-looking photo
Stephen Metz
Roommates Jenny Crowe (left) and Annie Callan (right) pose with a third roommate, Ashley Miller.

LADD Chief Operating Officer Paul Thienprayoon says that's the goal for this year.

People were anxious, consternated and generally overwhelmed the first year. Lots of planning, strategies and policies went into keeping folks safe but also connected and involved.

The agency hasn't reported a single case of COVID-19.

The biggest challenge, he says, is balancing safety and mental health.

"I think that's been a pretty difficult balance because a lot of people definitely want to stay safer, and then a lot of other folks want to get back out and don't really see that their safety is in jeopardy ... and it's trying to balance those two things and we've done that really well and we need to continue to do that."

Looking ahead, 2022 is about getting back to bigger events and community building activities.

"The DD community, and the people that support them, are really resilient, and really capable of making the changes necessary to keep themselves safe and keep each other safe and move forward — and they did so very well, very valiantly, over the last two years."

Two women sit on a front porch step during fall.
House Manager Phyllis Thomas and Jenny Crowe.

Looking ahead

The women in the Madeira house are a good example.

House manager Phyllis Thomas says the roommates and support staff agreed to modify their lives to keep each other safe. Staff changed schedules; no one took vacations for two years.

No one got COVID.

Each house member gets to evaluate for herself if she feels safe about attending an event or participating in an activity. When Callan went back to work at Bonefish Grill, the team wrote a game plan to ensure her health and safety.

Housemate Jenny Crowe says she's coping well. She does a lot of writing and reading and she still loves gardening. She's also really into drawing right now and plans to show a picture of a turtle at the Madeira Art Fair.

"I would like to go back to the Krohn when all this seems almost over, like an endemic not a pandemic," she says.

"Oh, and vacation!" she exclaims. "I would like to go more places on vacation."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.