For Marion County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jonah Gehring, the reality of COVID-19 became very real to him after an attempted snowboarding trip to Colorado with his 13-year-old daughter during Spring Break last week.
“We have been there before, and it still is one of my favorite places to frequent — shredding some slopes, taking in nature, and campfire cookouts. Planning and prepping for the trip all took place prior to the 13th of March. At this point I was aware of the virus but didn’t think about it having an impact in the US other than my 401k taking a hit, and that travel was getting cut off from China and those people were being quarantined so it would be contained. I did feel for the people stuck on those ships but knew it was necessary for it not to spread here,” said Gehring.
Gehring explained that he thought maybe everyone was overreacting and set out for their trip not really worried. They drove through the night and arrived on Saturday, March 14.
They bought their tickets and rented the equipment they needed. They also noticed abundant hand sanitizer and practicing of extreme social distancing. Gehring said it seemed excessive but he still felt really safe about the decisions to be there at that point.
But then the unexpected happened.
“Just then, an employee of the resort said, ‘You guys need to take everything back. The mountain is closed till the 24th.’ It would later be closed for the whole season.
The two were refunded their money. They spent the remainder of the day at the cabin and cooked some of the food they had brought on the campfire. Then they watched the news as the Colorado governor closed all ski resorts and Kansas put a ban on the four Colorado counties.
“This common cold virus can’t possibly be that bad; not in MY country. We live in the best place on earth, so this won’t be that bad here,” Gehring said he was thinking.
The father and daughter pair decided to head back home on March 16 and spent the long drive worried about their “unfair quarantine” that they would be facing at home.
Gehring said they kept thinking “we didn’t even have a real chance to be infected, right?”
They used the same pay at the pump in Pueblo (not in one of the counties restricted) that they used to fill up to get there. They ate their own food and just drove.
“Later that day, I got in touch with the Marion County Health Department and explained our situation. I asked about a test for travelers so that we could know if we needed to stay home quarantined or not. We were told there were no exceptions, and no test. Okay, now I was really ticked! It did not get any better from there. My wife had not traveled with us, but since she works in health care she would not be permitted to go back to work if she was in contact with us. This was the hardest realization for me in all of this. Now I was beyond mad,” said Gehring.
After contemplating where Gehring’s wife Renee would go, or if they should just turn around only an hour and a half away from home, the family decided Renee would stay with her extended family. The decision neither of them wanted to make, but which had to be reached to do the right thing.
“We arrived home to an empty house except for Rowdy, our Corgi, that was fully stocked with food and essentials that my amazing wife thought we would need to survive for a while. I love her, she is so amazing, and I wouldn’t have made it this long in life without her,” said Gehring. “Another blessing was that my awesome brother dropped a care package in our back yard for myself and my daughter, his niece.”
The next few days, Jonah continued to be livid, sitting at home in quarantine. He contacted everyone under the sun, from KDHE to Kansas Representatives and Senators, to US Representatives and Senators.
“They all seemed to tell me the same thing—that they are trying, and then proceeded with the talking points that we have all heard. By the 19th I had a revelation, with the help of some very good people, all of whom live in Marion County. These people all care for my well-being, just as some others I have already noted. And thinking about that allowed me to reflect and see that most of my stresses and hold-ups at seeing the bigger picture were due to selfishness. Everyone that I had the pleasure to receive texts, phone calls, and FB conversations with from Marion County, Kansas had a genuine compassion for others’ well-being,” said Jonah. “So, I began looking at all the data again with my only interest being in the health and safety of those I care about. It is truly amazing how much our situation could have been improved had all those before my own situation not called it a joke, said “it is not that serious”, or thought the precautions too extreme. The incubation period of this virus allows you to spread it before you know you have it. If quarantines had been taken seriously, those who developed symptoms would have not spread it, causing the lockdowns currently being experienced. They had the chance to slow it down to a manageable situation, but remained selfish and could not be inconvenienced, just as I had been, regrettably.”
Jonah said that he made the decision to self-quarantine, even though it was not yet mandatory as it is now, because it was the right thing to do.
His daughter has a positive attitude as well.
I think it’s necessary to stop the spread from getting to the more vulnerable people, even though it was disappointing to not be able to snowboard. It’s worth not getting around people who can’t take the sickness sick,” said Gehring’s daughter.”I think it’s nice to have a break from life and just chill and have lots of introvert time. And people are doing lots of cool things on social media to pass the time, so we’re getting very creative and connected.”
Renee has been working hard at her job at Parkside Homes. She is upbeat and serving those she works with.
“Jonah and I had the opportunity to make this decision before he came back from Colorado. Because of Jonah’s decision to isolate, he’s given me the opportunity to go to work and perform my normal routine, and to do the things that are important to me. We both know it is important to be responsible and always be thinking of the health of others,” Renee said.
Jonah has had much time to think things through and has come to peace with the situation.
“At the end of this I don’t want to wonder if my actions caused anyone undue distress, or worse. These are our friends and neighbors that we are looking out for, who could be affected by no fault of their own. So, I can say from my position, sitting around the house for another week and some change, if all you have to do is wash your hands frequently, avoid going to gatherings, and practice social distancing so you aren’t compromised by the person being selfish, and aren’t compromising others—believe me, that is better than what my daughter, my wife, and I are having to do. I drew my own short straw; you can easily avoid drawing one for yourself. Skip the selfish phase. Change your perception. Consider the health and safety of others now.”